Don’t Fall Victim To The Tanim Bala Scheme: Tips And Tricks For Travellers

Practice caution when traveling, as you never know what may end up in your luggage. Like bullets, for example.

A modus operandi in the Philippines has caught light for their stealthy methods. Called tanim bala (planting of bullets in luggage), the scam involves perpetrators secretly placing bullets into unsuspecting travellers’ luggages.

A source speaking to ABS-CBN News claims the syndicate of the modus has been actively pursuing targets for the past 20 years, with CCTV cameras failing to capture just how these bullets are planted into a person’s luggage. Prior to exposure of the modus operandi, the tanim bala group victimized over 20 passengers a day.

The source shared the mastermind makes use of spotters who usually distract passengers before the latter’s baggage is opened and a bullet is swiftly planted inside.

The scheme allegedly involves airport security officials who plant ammunition in order to exploit caught passengers with exponential amounts of money for the planted bullet.

Several travellers have already fallen victim to the tanim bala scam. One senior citizen was kept from boarding a plane due to a bullet being allegedly found in her handbag at the Ninoy Aquino Terminal Airport.

The victim, Nimfa Fontamillas, 65, was on her way to Singapore with her daughter, Menchu Tan, when a .9-mm bullet was allegedly found in her bag as it went through the final x-ray inspection. Authorities said they had to use a knife to cut open the bag’s pocket in front of Fontamillas and her lawyer, Clint Estandarte.

Fontamillas in tears after falling victim to the tanim bala scam. Photo from Manila Bulletin.

Fontamillas in tears after falling victim to the tanim bala scam. Photo from Manila Bulletin.

Of the scam, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte threatened perpetrators that he would let them swallow bullets as punishment.

“I don’t have ambition to become the president,” he said, “but if I am president, I will let you swallow those bullets, even if it means death.”

Meanwhile, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III vowed he would make travellers feel safe again as he ordered investigations into the tanim bala scam to take place.

“The President has instructed Secretary [Joseph Emilio] Abaya to thoroughly look into these so-called tanim bala incidents,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Saranggani Province Representative and boxing champ Manny Pacquiao has also expressed concern over the scheme. As Vice Chairman of the House Committee on OFW Welfare, Pacquiao has said he will assign his own personal lawyers to assist alleged victims of the tanim bala modus.

There are pre-cautions that may be practice in order to avoid falling victim to such scams. One such method is to use hard-case luggage and avoid baggages that have outside pockets.

Wrapping your luggage in cling wrap is also a suggested practice as it provides additional protection from tampering.

“Wrap the entire bag in plastic,” said Joseph Plazo of Plazo Associates Law. “The shrink wrap makes sticking in a bullet difficult.”

Plazo added that if bullets were indeed planted in your luggage, they will not bear your fingerprints.

“A bullet with none of your fingerprints sheds reasonable doubt on the possession of the said item,” he said.

Spokesperson of the Civil Aeronautics Association of the Philippines (CAAP) Eric Apolonio advised travellers to keep an eye on their luggage at all times; if an airport security employee claims to have seen a bullet in the x-ray of your luggage, you have a right to delay the opening of your bag until your lawyer, the airport official’s supervisor, or third-party witnesses are present.

It is also advised to make use of your legal rights. Under the Section 12 of the Philippine Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution, you have a right to remain silent and any admission made by you without the presence of a lawyer is inadmissible in court.

Additionally, no police officer has the legal power to set bail, as only a judge is empowered by law to do so.

“Corrupt officials may say, ‘Sir, you simply have to pay [xxx extortion amount here], and we’ll let you go.’ This is a trap,” said Plazo.

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Regina is a Fine Arts graduate who expresses herself through various mediums. She finds amusement in pop culture, enjoys video games, and watches way too many YouTube videos on a daily basis.