Recto asks NBI to lead crackdown on new airport modus

Sen. Ralph Recto

MANILA — Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Thursday urged the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and other government authorities to lead the crackdown on the alleged “Maleta Gang” syndicate victimizing travelers at the country’s premier airport.

“It took a foreign VIP to lodge a complaint before authorities finally took action against a continuing crime routinely posted by its victims, our OFWs, in social media,” Recto said in a statement.

The senator called the attention of the law enforcers following the arrest of four baggage handlers at the Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for allegedly stealing the jewelry of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s wife on Wednesday.

Recto also urged other “non-NAIA based agencies” to join the probe, saying that “intelligence fund” should be used if needed.

“Hindi na pwede na taga-NAIA lang, tulad ng NAIA police (It should not be just the people in NAIA like the NAIA police). You have to bring in outside investigators,” he said. “Kung kailangang gamitan ito ng intelligence fund (If it necessitates the use of intelligence fund), it will be good money worth spending.”

“When you steal from OFWs, who are returning from long and low-paying hard labor abroad, then you are an enemy of the state,” Recto added.

Recto said tourism efforts were also negated by the “bad press” the country’s main gateway was getting.

“’Yang Maleta Gang sa NAIA ang negative effect niyan sa turismo ay tulad din ng damage na ginawa ng Maute group (The Maleta Gang at NAIA gets the same negative effect in our tourism, just like the damage brought by Maute group),” he said.

“One of the worst airports na nga in terms of passenger facilities and traffic congestion, tapos enveloped pa in other controversies,” Recto said.

Despite the country’s top tourist spots, Recto also lamented that the controversies surrounding NAIA were causing “stigma.”

“Maganda nga beaches natin, smiling nga tayo (Our beaches are beautiful, we are always smiling) but we’re having a hard time living down the stigma that our airport is either they plant a bullet in your bag or they divest it of its contents,” he said.

The senator also pointed out that money should not be a problem in transforming NAIA’s image into an honest institution, once “a few bad eggs working there” are fired.

“In 2014, government was already collecting P9.3 billion from NAIA passengers and airlines, netting P5.25 billion that year,” Recto said. “Sa ganitong kita, ano ba naman ang gastos para sa dagdag na CCTV at pulis sa baggage routes (With this kind of income, what hinders them from installing additional CCTV and assigning police at baggage routes)?”

Recto said a third of NAIA’s P9.3 billion gross income came from the P550 international terminal fee and the P200 domestic terminal fee paid by passengers, which reached P3.5 billion in 2014.

“Tapos kung Pinoy na turista ka na paalis, may travel tax ka na babayaran, only to discover upon arrival at your destination na mayroon din palang nangolekta ng gamit mo (And when you are a Filipino tourist flying out, you’ll be paying travel tax only to discover upon arrival at your destination that someone also collected your belongings),” he lamented.

Travel tax rates cost around P2,700 for a first class passenger, P1,620 for an economy seat and P300 for an OFW dependent, according to Recto.

“Nagbabayad ka pa ng airport security fee, tapos ang gamit mo hindi secure. So para saan pa ang binayaran mo para sa iyong seguridad at ng iyong gamit (You have paid the security fee and yet your belongings are not secured. So, what’s the purpose of that payment intended to secure your things)?” he said.

Recto also noted that in 2014, P598 million in Airport Security Fees was collected from NAIA users and remitted to the national Treasury.