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Extortion, stealing in the space of a week: How did NAIA address these issues?

By NICK GARCIA Published Mar 02, 2023 2:05 pm

In the space of a week, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) saw two incidents of security personnel allegedly extorting and stealing from foreign passengers.

On March 1, a Chinese traveler lost his smartwatch while going through the security screening procedure at NAIA Terminal 1 at around 2:30 a.m. He left his smartwatch on the tray passing through the x-ray machine.

When the passenger went back for the item, the security screening officer, Valeriano Diaz Ricaplaza Jr., said he didn't see anything.

This prompted the review of the closed circuit television footages. But alas, Ricaplaza was caught on-camera taking the smartwatch.

"He was brought to the CCTV room to view the incident himself, and was immediately arrested," the Office of the Transportation Security (OTS) said in a statement, adding that Ricaplaza is now in the custody of the Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group for further questioning.

Last Feb. 22, a Thai passenger on Facebook posted two videos showing five screening officers' alleged extortion activities at NAIA Terminal 2.

In the first video, the staff were seen putting something in their pockets after a security checkpoint.

In the second video, the passenger was asking a screening officer to return his money worth 20,000 yen (P8,000). The officer was seen handing the money to the passenger, as their group can be heard asking the passenger to delete the video.

The screening officers, who were placed under preventive suspension following the incident, were dismissed from service.

Four of them were job order personnel hired in 2022, while the other one was a contractual employee for five years, OTS Administrator Ma. O Aplasca said, adding they'd file criminal and administrative cases against them.

"This illegal acts will not be tolerated and we will apply the full force of the law to penalize the perpetrators," the OTS said in a statement. "They shall not only be dismissed from the service but shall also be put behind bars for their criminal acts that tarnish the reputation and integrity not only of OTS but the entire country in general."

Apart from the alleged extortion and stealing incidents, another NAIA screening officer made headlines for inappropriate behavior last Feb. 6, when she conducted a security check on the members of K-pop group ENHYPHEN at NAIA Terminal 1.

In a viral video, the officer was seen asking the group members to remove their face masks—as she looks away and giggles.

ENHYPHEN fans took to social media to call out the officer for her unprofessionalism.

The OTS has since said it “shall never tolerate any unprofessional behavior." To date, it's unclear if the female officer got sanctioned for her actions.

The OTS in a press release noted that since July 2022, its internal cleansing program has already resulted in 14 dismissals and 3 suspensions. Six more cases are being resolved by the OTS Legal Service, it said, which range from violations against tipping, proper disposal of intercepted prohibited items, extortion, rude behavior, and use of mobile phone while on duty.

Bryan Co, senior assistant general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority which manages NAIA, meanwhile told CNN Philippines that they're conducting a "comprehensive study" across the terminals, in hopes of improving certain "blind spots" and strategically place new security cameras.

Co said they also removed glass film where the incidents took place so passengers can see the screeners' movements.

They're also looking into reassigning the OTS security screeners to the MIAA. In effect, the OTS will take on purely regulatory and policy implementation roles, while its operations will be handled by airport management, CNN Philippines reported.

In a March 2 editorial, The Philippine STAR urged the OTS to tighten recruitment policies and improve training for its screeners.

The editorial reads, "Leaving the task to amateurs, thieves and giggly fangirls,can only lead to national embarrassment."