Why is it that Filipinos are struggling to convince the world — and even themselves — that the bullet planting scam in their premiere airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), is just a relatively small problem that affects an almost negligible percentage of travellers?
According to Department of Transport and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Jun Abaya, of the 34 million people who went through the NAIA in 2014, only 1,813 were caught in possession of ammunition in their luggage. On the basis of those numbers, the average traveller arriving or departing via the NAIA will have a 0.005 percent chance of falling victim to the laglag bala (bullet planting) scam. It means you have a greater chance of being killed while crossing a street in Manila than falling victim to bullet planting at the NAIA.
Of course the figures quoted by Abaya only represent documented cases. We don’t really know how many of these cases go unreported and undocumented. According to anecdotal reports, the modus operandi of crooked airport officials is to take their victims directly to an ATM machine to withdraw their negotiated “fine”. Official walks away happy, passenger gets to board her flight. Everyone “wins”. By Pinoy standards, that is.
Even if, say, the total number of undocumented bullet planting incidents is a hundred times the number quoted by the DOTC, that takes the percentage of incidents up to just 0.5 percent. Still a small number, probably smaller than the probability of having your handbag snatched or your wallet stolen while shopping at one of Manila’s crowded malls.
If so, then the more interesting question therefore is: Why are Filipinos so quick to be whipped into a frenzy? And more importantly: Why is the stigma so hard to shake off?
This points to an even more disturbing aspect of the emergent psyche of the Filipino. Philippine society is one where social trust is extremely low. That is,
Filipinos do not trust one another.
This is not a good sign. Many notable intellectuals have cited this gaping hole in our cultural fabric that points to a serious disease that threatens the overall health of our society.
According to the late Teddy Benigno in one of his Star articles cited “A recent survey conducted by Prof. Jose Abueva, formerly UP president, show[ing] that beyond the family, Filipinos hardly trusted anybody.”
However, according to noted American political analyst Francis Fukuyama, “One of the most important lessons we can learn from an examination of economic life is that a nation’s well-being, as well as its ability to compete, is conditioned by a single, pervasive cultural characteristic: the level of trust inherent in the society.”
Teddy Benigno then goes on to say that “The most economically advanced, politically sturdy countries are the high-trust ones like Japan, Germany, the US and China. Occupying the cellar are low-trust countries like the Philippines, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, many in Latin America, a multitude in Africa.” Of course the fact that the malady afflicts other countries does not diminish the impact of this critical reality in the Philippines and that it is something that needs to be addressed in absolute terms.
Jaime Licauco in an Inquirer article dated 22 May 2001 went as far as saying that: “A nation whose policies and rules are based on the assumption that everybody is a cheat and liar unless proven otherwise cannot long endure. Take a close look at our bureaucracy and its rules. It is burdened by elaborate and often unnecessary checks and balances so that nothing ever gets done in the process.”
Indeed, a fatal culture of crime has all but taken hold of Philippine society. No less than the President of the Philippines himself is seen to be a person that cannot be trusted thanks to the opacity with which he was known to manage the national budget and the underhanded way with which he’s coddled his buddies in the Cabinet and attempted to bargain away chunks of Mindanao to Islamic terrorists.
It is, thus, hardly surprising that Filipinos are increasingly lashing out at their government. There is very little evidence that anyone ever gets seriously investigated for alleged acts of corruption and plunder much more thrown in prison for reasons other than political vendetta. In short, justice in Philippine society is selectively applied. In the case of this most recent bullet planting craze, Filipinos are skeptical that anything will be done stem this scandal on account of the family ties enjoyed by the top officials otherwise accountable for the quality and integrity of services delivered by the NAIA to the public.
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