MANILA, Nov. 12 (PNA) – Contrary to reports that the government has belittled the bullet-planting issue at the country’s airport, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has considered it as a major problem needing to be addressed as soon as possible.

”I consider this a major problem,” Abaya replied when asked by Senator Grace Poe during a Senate inquiry into the alleged bullet-planting on Thursday “if the DOTC considers the controversy as an isolated case.”

Abaya said injustice against the victims should be stopped, particularly on the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The DOTC chief promised to the committee that he will convene the National Aviation Security Committee (NASC) after the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to discuss the bullet-planting issue.

Abaya said the last time the NASC met was in 2012 to address the downgrading of the country’s aviation industry.

Poe lauded Abaya for his plan to convene the airport security committee which the DOTC chief chairs.

During the hearing, Abaya also thanked the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) headed by Atty. Persida Acosta for personally helping the supposed victims of the bullet-planting.

With the intervention of Acosta, five cases of bullet-planting, most of them involving OFWs, have been dismissed due to “no intention to possess.”

Acosta urged the public as well as the Aviation Security Group and the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) to coordinate with the PAO to protect the rights of the victims after learning that majority of them have undergone inquest proceedings without legal counsel.

The PAO chief is convinced that the bullet-planting scheme to extort money from the victims is existing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Acosta based her assessment from the narration of victims Gloria Ortinez, an OFW who is in danger of losing her job in Hong Kong, and American missionary Ryan White’s son Lane Michael, who claimed an airport personnel has asked for PhP30,000 after a bullet was found inside his luggage.

”This kind of modus operandi should be stopped immediately,” Acosta said, appealing to OTS not to file cases against those who have been intercepted with amulet.

Ortinez, a 56-year-old OFW from Paoay, Ilocos Norte, said she was forced to sign a document that she was not even allowed to read the content.

”I was not allowed to read it and they said, if I will not sign it, they will handcuff me. So I signed it,” Ortinez, who said she has never touched a bullet or a gun in her life, told the panel.

Abaya said he believed that Ortinez was not guilty of illegal possession of the ammunition.

After the hearing, Abaya approached Ortinez and told her “pasensya na po” (my apology) while gently tapping the OFW’s back.

Abaya said he would do his best to convince Ortinez’s employer in Hong Kong to accept her back.

”I could write a letter right now, craft it, she could bring it with her. I could personally make a call to her employer. If I could get the number, I would call the employer,” Abaya said during the hearing.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has dismissed the case of illegal possession of ammunition against Ortinez for lack of probable cause.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III instructed Abaya to study the committee’s proposal to form a special committee that would decide on the bullet interception without bringing the case to the court.

”Abaya and the DOTC, including airport officials, will have one week to study the creation of this committee because right now, the suspect will have to wait for two days before the case will be brought to the fiscal. That’s not fair to those who are not guilty,” Guingona told the media after the hearing.

Senatorial aspirant Susan ‘Toots’ Ople, an OFW advocate, called for immediate reforms in airport and security management and not made the airport a hotbed of cruelty directed against the OFWs.

The senators grilled Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado and OTS Administrator Rolando Recomono for failure to submit to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) the CCTV footage of White’s interception incidence.

Senator Guingona, who chaired the joint Senate Committees on Public Services and Blue Ribbon investigation, asked Recomono if he has submitted the CCTV footage to the NBI but the OTS official said the CCTV footage is with MIAA.

Honrado claimed they have already given the CCTV footage to OTS, forcing Guingona to subpoena the footage as well as all the documents pertaining to the cases filed against the supposed victims of bullet-planting.

White and some victims of the bullet-planting have asked for the help of the NBI.

The MIAA chief also drew the ire of the senators when he claimed that he has no control over the 22 government agencies operating at the NAIA, saying his only main job is “smooth flow of work at the airport.”

The senators also lambasted Honrado for lack of compassion upon learning that the MIAA chief never paid a visit to the victims of the bullet-planting.

Ortinez said nobody from the airport offered her food and water during the first night of her detention.

”The problem with some of our officials is the lack of compassion,” Poe said.

Honrado and Recomono said they are looking on the pattern of bullet-planting that a syndicate is behind the extortion scheme.

Aside from White and Ortinez, other supposed bullet-planting victims who attended the Senate probe were Rufina Cruz and Rowena Otic.

The Senate investigation was based on the seven Senate resolutions filed by Senators Ralph Recto (SRN 1594), Cynthia Villar (1610), Miriam Defensor Santiago (1635), Grace Poe (1636), Nancy Binay (1637), Joseph Victor Ejercito (16440), and Juan Ponce Enrile (1645).

Other senators present during the four-hour Senate inquiry include Senators Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., Antonio Trillanes IV, Serge Osmena, Alan Peter Cayetano and Recto. Jelly F. Musico/PNA