The Philippines’ latest national embarrassment — the bullet-planting scamming that is gripping the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) — has many people on-edge. The modus operandi of this recently-publicised racket making the rounds in social media involves bullets being inserted in travellers’ luggage and then “discovered” by airport officials who then give the victims the option of paying a “fine” on-the-spot (wink-wink) or face arrest.
The thing that seems to escape the sensibilities of petty crooks in the Philippines is that criminal fads like this, when done indiscriminately frequently enough, eventually get exposed and cracked down upon. It’s the criminal world’s equivalent of business fads like the lechon manok (roasted chicken) and shawarma (mediterranean wrap) rages of the past that made one-time entrepreneurs of many ordinary Filipinos. Take greed and add an abject lack of imagination, and you get crime Filipino style.
Airport personnel shittin’ on their own backyard all but mirrors the Philippines’ culture of crime. In a country where senators and congressmen see no problem with the hallowed tradition of squirrelling away millions in public funds using bogus “non-government organisations” into phoney pet “projects”, it actually comes as a bit of a surprise that criminal activity of this sort being deeply-embedded in the country’s premiere airport still shocks Filipinos.
Filipinos are deeply-horrified whenever foreigners perceive or, worse, say something bad about their country and society. Filipinos take offense when they are generalised as crooked, undisciplined, boorish, or stupid — specially by foreigners. Yet a critical facility like the NAIA, where foreigners’ first impressions of the Philippines are forged, has seemingly remained beyond hope of rehabilitation despite decades of it being a source of profound national embarrassment.
For three straight years up to 2013, the NAIA was voted the “worst airport in Asia” by the travel website Sleeping in Airports. Like the Philippines’ criminal government, however, the sorry state in which the NAIA is in only reflects the character of the people who tolerate its continued failure.
Back in 2014, for example, a photo posted by former Philippine Bureau of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon on Twitter showing rubbish left behind by passengers at the NAIA Terminal 3 went viral. It can be regarded as evidence that airport officials alone cannot be blamed for its squalor. For that matter, public officials alone aren’t solely to blame for the squalor of any public facility in the Philippines.
In the same way, a criminal people who routinely elect criminal representatives to their Congress can be said to also largely account for the criminal management of their nation’s flagship international airport.
This culture of crime is evident in the way no less than the office of the President of the Philippines itself reportedly dismissed the recent bullet-planting incidents in NAIA as just “one isolated case” that should not be a cause of worry. This comes from an office into which reports the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) which is accountable for the quality of service provided by the NAIA. The DOTC under Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo ‘Jun’ Abaya has had an appalling track record of seeing critical public transport facilities in the Philippines fail under its watch over the last several years. Yet, despite this unimpressive performance, Abaya has remained within the favours of Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III who is known to coddle a close inner circle of friends and relatives working for him in government.
This is just the latest in a string of high-profile incidents that are all linked by the common denominator of routine neglect that has become sadly familiar to Filipinos who have long been resigned to the incompetence and criminal neglect that is more the rule than the exception in the Philippines.
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