MANILA — It's not just one or two, but four personnel of the Office for Transportation Security assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) who are now being investigated regarding the alleged dollar bill-swallowing incident inside the airport, according to the OTS chief.
The incident, which happened last September 18, involved $300 that a Chinese traveler reported missing.
Interviewed on Radyo630's "Ano’ng Ganap?" program, OTS Administrator Ma.O Aplasca said that their ongoing investigation found signs of collusion among some personnel.
"'Di ba ni-report namin nung araw eh parang tatlo lang, pero we realized na parang meron pa silang kasabwat dito sa kanilang ginawa... lahat po ng members ng checkpoint, 14 po sila katao. Pero, as of today, ang nakita po ng ating mga imbestigador report ng aming imbestigador, apat pa lang yung nakita naming may involvement (sa incident)," Aplasca revealed.
(We reported that there seemed to be only three personnel involved, but we realized that it seems they had another accomplice... All members of the checkpoint, there are 14 of them. But, as of today, our investigator has only seen four who may be involved.)
The four are now under preventive suspension, Aplasca said, as he assured them due process.
Security videos checked
Aplasca said OTS was able to review "a lot of videos" that showed different angles of what may have happened to the $300 that the traveler said was missing from his bag.
"Dun sa nakita namin na mga video ano. By the way, hindi lang yung mga video na nagsi-circulate sa social media ang hawak po namin na mga video. Marami pa kaming video na na-review. Iba't-ibang angle po. Nakita po namin na parang meron silang sabwatan with the x-ray operator," Aplasca said.
Airport protocol requires putting baggage through an x-ray machine, with manual inspection done if the scan of the contents is unclear.
Airport protocol dictated that baggage of travelers would have to be placed under the X-ray machine.
"But this time po nakita namin na pina-ano (subject) niya sa manual inspection dito sa screener na ito at very unusual po. Kasi dalawa yung lane namin sa checkpoint d'yan sa nasabing area."
"Ito pong babae, hindi po sya naka-assign sa lane na dapat magko-conduct ng baggage inspection. Lumipat po sya doon sa kabila... parang nagsenyasan sila nung x-ray operator," Aplasan said.
(But this time, the bag was subjected to manual inspection. And it was very unusual because the screener was assigned to a different lane, and she went to that lane. It's like the x-ray operator gave her a signal.)
Aplasca said the Chinese traveler's bag seems to have been targeted since the screener already had another bag to inspect but left her lane to check the other bag.
He also corrected earlier reports that the OTS supervisor — also under investigation — had handed the screener water to help her swallow the alleged bills.
The water was actually handed over by another person acting on the supervisor's instructions.
'Pattern to discourage traveler complaints'
The OTS chief said the agency has also seen a seeming "pattern to discourage" passengers from filing formal complaints.
"Ang sagot kaagad eh ‘Sir ah, kung willing ba kayong maghintay. Baka maiwanan po kayo ng flight nyo.’ Yun po ang parang normal na naririnig ng mga pasaherong gustong mag-complain. So ibig sabihin, dini-discouage nilang mag-complain ang mga pasahero."
(What they say is "sir, are you willing to wait? You might be left behind by your flight". That is what passengers who want to complain are normally told. So, that means they are discouraging passengers from complaining.)
He said that when the OTS investigates incidents, personnel sometimes point out that the complainant has left the country and there is no longer any reason for a probe.
Aplasca stressed all filed complaints are still being investigated, regardless if the complainant is still in the county or not.
Other incidents under investigation
Aplasca assured the public that the OTS is also investigating other cases or complaints that they have received.
"Iba't-ibang grupo po ito.... may nakita po kami na general pattern na halos pare-pareho po ang style ng kanilang pagnanakaw... hindi naman po ganun kadami yan. Kasi tatlong shifts po yung aming rotation ng kanilang trabaho sa Manila International Airport," Aplasca said.
(These are different groups... we have seen a general pattern of similar styles in stealing from travelers. There aren't a lot of them. We only have three shifts on rotation at the Manila International Airport.)
Aplasca said, senior and veteran OTS personnel are angry at what some of their younger personnel are doing.
He said he is confident that the investigations will be wrapped up by next week, adding results will be made public.
He said that the investigation covers incidents years ago and also encouraged the public to tell OTS if they have experienced similar incidents.
While not justifying the alleged wrongdoing by some of their personnel, Aplasca said that entry-level compensation at OTS is just P16,000.
And out of the almost 3,000 OTS personnel, only 300 are regular employees. The rest are on a contractual or job contract status.
OTS leadership is trying to address these issues through the help of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Budget and Management, Aplasca said.