To wit, the perpetrators drop a bullet or two into their victims' luggage. When these items show up in the airport security's X-ray scanners, the victim is forced to fork out an exorbitant amount in exchange for not having to endure grueling legal procedures. This form of extortion is so insidious, it made headlines around the world.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, the Philippine government is still working on the case. And knowing the track record of said government, it will take a while (read: a long time) before all perpetrators will be made to pay for their crimes.
So the best you can do (for now) is to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. To do that, here are the things to remember before you have your luggage scanned by Philippine airport officials.
Bring the Right Bags
As much as possible, avoid bags with external pockets. If you must use bags like these, make sure the pockets are kept to a minimum, or keep them within your line of sight at all times. Also, covering your bags with a material like cling wrap will help.
According to some reports, the bullets are often found in hand-carried bags. So keep these as close to you as possible, and cover up any openings. Use your hands and arms to keep zippers, pockets, etc. away from the prying eyes — and probing hands — of the unscrupulous.
Wear the Right Clothes
If the perpetrators can't touch your bags, they might go for your clothes instead. Wear a pocket-free outfit, or at least one that has no room for bullets and other contraband items. Clothes that fit this description include plain T-shirts, jogging pants and slip-on shoes.
You can use the nearby comfort rooms (CRs) to change before heading for security. Keep your pocketed attire in your bags, and seal these bags up as tightly as you can.
Don't Let Anyone Else Touch Your Bags
Apparently, even taxi drivers are in on the scam. So if you hail a cab to/from the airport, and the driver offers to help with your luggage, decline him politely. If he insists, be firm with your decision. You may be entrusting him with your life on the road, but you certainly don't have to trust him with your bags.
The same goes for porters. Granted, they can be aggressive and pushy, but stand your ground. It would probably help to have someone trustworthy accompany you, so you don't feel overwhelmed by these men. If you sense danger from the porters, call attention from the crowd, or from security.
Even airport security shouldn't be spared from scrutiny. The moment a guard starts poking into your bag, watch his/her hands closely. Take out your mobile phone with a camera, so they'll know you won't stand for any tomfoolery.
Speaking of cameras, use it to take a picture of the X-ray monitor once your bag passes through. You need all the evidence you can get to make your case later.
If you're too sleepy or jet-lagged to do any of these, it's better to have a companion with you. Ask that companion to watch your back, and be on the lookout for anything strange going on.
In case a bullet or two is found in your bag, here are the things you shouldn't do.
First, don't panic. If you allow your shock, anger and/or fear to get the better of you, you might do something you'll regret later.
Second, do not touch the bullets in your bag. You don't want your fingerprints on them, thereby giving the authorities more reason to indict you.
Third, do not try to handle things on your own. You can ask for help from a lawyer, or an airport official other than security, to witness the opening of your luggage. If it turns out the bullet isn't yours, you have every right to file a complaint against the airport personnel. They should be made to pay for the stress they put you through, not you.
A Few More Thoughts
So far, most of the victims have been the elderly, the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and foreigners. Even if you don't fall into any of these categories, it's worth noting that the alleged "laglag bala" syndicate (which, in all likelihood, exists) seems to be indiscriminate with their victims. In other words, you can't afford to let your guard down.
Also, please don't let these incidents scare you away from the Philippines. As we've noted several times before, this country has so much to offer. If you're unwilling to follow the above mentioned tips just to save a little bit of stress, you might miss out on the many sights and sounds of the Pearl of the Orient.