On February 22, 2023, airport staff who allegedly stole cash from a Thai tourist while on duty at a security screening checkpoint at the Philippines’ primary airport, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), will face criminal and administrative prosecution.
“In addition to the administrative action that we filed, we wanted to pursue the criminal case since, for us, this is not only a breach of our procedures and regulations. That is already a crime that we cannot allow,” said Mao Aplasca, administrator of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS), during an interview on ABS-TeleRadyo CBN’s on February 28.
Aplasca also acknowledged that the five staff who were stationed on that day had been placed on “preventive suspension” pending an inquiry.
Piyawat Gunlayaprasit, an additional Thai national, first filmed the incident on two recordings. In the first video, an OTS employee at the security screening checkpoint is seen placing what seem to be banknotes into the pocket of another OTS employee.
The second video has OTS officers returning 20,000 or P8,000 to Kitja Thabthim, a Thai tourist, while begging with him to “delete the tape.”
This is the first time that these five security people have been suspected of misconduct, he said, adding that 14 of their employees had already been terminated “for different disciplinary offenses,” though not all of them were theft-related.
The event raises concerns regarding OTS personnel issues. Senator Grace Poe previously stated that, while doing such an unlawful conduct was bad, inadequate compensation might inspire airport employees to commit criminal acts.
According to the assistant general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), Bryan Co, at least two screening officers were engaged in the suspected theft. During examination, Co said that a third officer may have been involved, who appeared to be interrogating the Thai tourist Thabthim in order to delay him.
Thabthim informed Rappler that he was the lone passenger questioned during the event. It appeared that other travelers got through the inspection fast.
On the part of OTS, senior supervisors were added to the checkpoints, as well as permanent inspectors whose job it is to inspect the work of screening officers at all NAIA terminals.
In the meanwhile, Co said that they are evaluating if MIAA people may operate the security screening stations instead of the OTS.
He noted that MIAA installed a fisheye camera just above the screening area, as well as additional cameras throughout NAIA and even in the immigration section, “so we can film everything,” especially in our battle against human trafficking.
In February of last year, the Senate investigated an alleged human smuggling event at NAIA, when a private jet heading for Dubai carrying “unauthorized persons” was able to take off.
Under the Aquino administration, incidences of airport security employees placing gunshots in the baggage of some passengers in order to extort money from them tarnished NAIA’s reputation.