Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bullet-Planting at NAIA: The Law on Possession of Ammunition

President Aquino has ordered an investigation into the “tanim bala” racket that extorts money from passengers at the country's premier international gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Social media has exploded with reports and comments on planting of bullets allegedly by unscrupulous airport staff into the bags of unsuspecting passengers in order to extort money from them.

In reaction to these recent spate of bullet planting complaints, Senator Raplh Recto has asked for a review of the law on illegal possession of ammunition and wants the change the penalty for for illegal possession of ammunition – prision mayor, from 6 years and 1 day to 12 years. He described the current penalty as too harsh for a single bullet.

Under Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, it is illegal to possess even a single ammunition without a license. An ammunition is refered to as a complete unfixed unit consisting of a bullet, gunpowder, cartridge case and primer or loaded shell for use in any firearm. The minimum qualification to acquire a license to own and possess a firearm and/or ammunition is Filipino citizenship, at least 21 years old and gainful work, occupation or business.

The penalty of prision mayor (6 years and 1 day to 12 years) in its medium period shall be imposed upon any person who shall unlawfully acquire or possess ammunition for a Class-A light weapon. The penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period shall be imposed upon any person who shall unlawfully acquire or possess ammunition for a Class-B light weapon.

As shown in the numerous reported cases of "tanim bala" extortion incidents at the airport, this law on possession of ammunition has been abused by corrupt airport staff and their principals. Granting there is no bullet planting and indeed a passenger is caught in possession of a single bullet or two, the most commonsensical solution is to confiscate the prohibited item and let the passenger go.

However the law on firearm and ammunition has given an excuse for unscrupulous airport staff to arrest "erring" passengers and demand money from them in exchange for letting them off the hook. Thanks to social media this alleged extortion has been exposed!

While an investigation into this alleged scheme by airport personnel is a positive step, the long-term solution is to revise the law and decriminalize possession of ammunition in negligible quantity. A single bullet or two should not make a person a criminal. In California, possession of live ammunition is legal but with specific exceptions, among them by insane persons, by those under age 18, by convicts and by those under probation.

I say we should revise our gun and ammunition laws and adopt the same regulations as that of California's. That way, we can permanently avoid this embarrassing and appalling "tanim bala" extortion scheme in our primary airport.


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