Dear Secretary of Transportation Joseph Abaya
I am taking this opportunity to reach out to you because as someone married to a Filipina who travels back and forth to Manila frequently, I am truly concerned by what seems to be your failure to grasp the dynamics of what is going on in the minds of the traveling public with regard to the laglag bala scandal Based on the many reports emanating from your press conference, your core positon seems to be that the whole matter has been blown out of proportion as less than .004% of passengers have been caught with ammunition in their bags, so walang actual problema. You cited the annual figures for the past four years: 1,394 cases so far in 2015; 1,813 in 2014; 2,184 in 2013; 1,214 cases in 2012. Your point, apparently, was that there has not been a radical increase so the the surge in reporting on this is not warranted. You also broke down the cases since September 15, showing that some passengers acknowledged owning the bullets; some carried them as anting-anting amulets; and some carried them as souvenirs from firing ranges. Only two, you said, were suspect laglag bala. Your bottom line: ” We cannot simply demonize the people to whom we entrust our safety,”
It is difficult to read your comments without concluding that you and the government you represent fail to grasp that this has become an international media story that is instilling widespread fear; is costing the Philippines much needed tourism revenue; it is hurting NAIA porters who are losing half their income; and is inflicting real damage on the aready battered reputation of the Philippines as a crime-ridden destination. It is doing all this first because such scams exist and are being reported in the global media; and second because the scam is seemingly allowed to exist by a government who is not only insensitive, but enables the scam by prosecuting victims of the scam even when common sense says they are no threat to anyone. The international media is starting to get hold of the story — (Greta Van Susteren on Fox News just did a story on it as I’m writing this) and the image of the Philippines as a lawless environment with disinterested government leadership is being promulgated. It’s so damaging — and unnecessarily so if you would just deal with it forthrightly.
It seems that you and your colleagues simply don’t grasp or don’t care to grasp the deeper meaning of the problem, which is the deep sense of helplessness and pervasive fear that a scam like this, if allowed to continue, creates in travelers. I’m reminded of the 80s’ when the infamous Wakaoji kidnapping sent the entire Japanese expat community into a panic and decimated Japanese travel to the Philppines, costing millions of dollars and damaging the country’s reputation internationally. To follow the analogy — your presentation today was as if back then, a Philippine government official had stood up and said to Japan — you are blowing this out of proportion. Only .004% of foreigners in the Philppines have been kidnapped. Just as that statistic, while true, would not have helped back then — it doesn’t help now either. Even one kidnapping is too many; and even one traveler being extorted is too many. Worse — and this is the really, really bad part — if the victim refuses to be extorted, the government seems intent on letting the victim go to prison. There seems to be no sense of duty to protect the travelers from these predators — or to sort out real criminals from victims of a scam. The point is that people trust the government to protect them and the government in its official utterances needs to convey that they understand this.
Respectfully — if you had said what needs to be said, after your presser we would be reading headlines like: “Philippine officials vow to protect travelers; will ramp up efforts againt laglag bala.” Or: “Multi-level strategy vs. laglag bala proposed” Instead — the dominant takeaway from the presscon is that the government blames the media for blowing it out of proportion.
What the public needs to hear is something along these lines:
- Genuine commitment by the government to work on shutting down the laglag bala scheme.
- Commitment by the government to look at each case in its totality and not prosecute unless there is compelling reason to believe there was an actual intended threat. This is the “common sense” part of it. Such a commitment would in itself act as a disincentive to those carrying out laglag bala.
- Commitment by the administration to seek legal reforms that further diminish the likelihood that laglag bala can be successfully employed.
This is offered respectfully and in the hope that it might be read by someone who can have an impact on the situation before even greater damage is done.