Airport Security Extorting Passengers By Planting Bullets in Luggage

Most countries force airlines to collect departure taxes for them. It’s included in the price of a ticket, and the airline remits payment to the government. That’s much more efficient than the old method of passengers queuing to pay departure tax at the airport on the way out of the country.

But what happens if you have to pay departure tax at the airport instead of to the airline in advance?

I haven’t been to the Philippines in a few years, but I recall paying departure tax in Manila and in Cebu in cash before proceeding through security. I was given a paper receipt by the person that I paid, and I had to hand that receipt to a staffer immediately past the booth where I had paid.

This way they can match the receipts to the cash taken in. It doubles the staff cost, but makes it much more difficult for employees to pocket the cash.

It’s a high corruption country, but on the other hand though the Cebu airport has lots of pork.

Airport workers can get creative using their positions to extract cash. If they can’t pocket the security tax, they can blackmail passengers.

  • Airport security will apparently drop bullets into passengers’ bags as they go through the screening checkpoint at the Manila airport.
  • Passengers then have to pay a ‘fine’ or face charges of illegal possession of ammunition.

“This is becoming an international embarrassment”, said Sherwin Gatchalian, vice-chairman of the tourism committee in the House of Representatives.

Senator Ralph Recto stressed the need for intervention from authorities, adding: “There is no working system that is guarding the guards.”

…The reports have caused outrage, with locals criticising airport authorities. Mr Gatchalian condemned OTS staff, saying they were “not afraid to prey on foreigners”.

…Surveillance at the airport has been stepped up since the complaints began and an investigation has been launched into the personnel accused of involvement.

So who is going to watch the watchers?

Giving power to some people over others gives them the opportunity to extract resources from those they oversee. Corruption can be avoided either through totalitarianism (where the penalties are extreme, at least for those without enough power to be the ones wielding the penalties) or prosperous countries with high degrees of trust and respect for the rule of law.

Of course you need to develop that trust and respect for rights and properties, usually, to reach the higher growth equilibrium. The easier approach is ‘surveillance’ of those charged with enforcement. It’s why I simultaneously favor and am troubled by police body cams.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un tours the domestic terminal in Pyongyang

Many years ago when it was common to put quotations in email signatures one that I used to rotate in was from Albert Camus:

…we can foresee a time when…the only people at liberty will be prison guards who will then have to lock up one another. When only one remains, he will be called the ‘Supreme Guard; and that will be the ideal society in which problems of opposition, the headache of all twentieth century governments, will be settled once and for all.

(HT: Roadwarrior Voices)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have been to Manilla an average of 4 times a year for the past 5 years an never had a problem. FYI they now also collect a luggage fee before you enter the airport.

  2. In Cebu they redid the entire system. They now scan your ticket, and you pay the tax. Your payment is now linked to the ticket. The airport really got a ton of improvements in the last year.

  3. Kow there is a problem Leonard…and I never had to baggage fees. I have no idea what that means.

  4. The departure fees at Manila and Cebu airports are now paid with the ticket, no more manual payment.
    @Leonard – there is no luggage fee outside the terminal – that was most likely a scam! There might be porters offering to assist with your luggage, but there are no mandatory fees!
    While I’m not surprised that this scam happened in Manila, I think it’s very rare. I’ve traveled in and out of Manila more than 50 times in the last 2 years and have never seen or heard about it, before it hit the media last week.
    I’ve written some tips how to avoid it happening to you when traveling through Manila’s NAIA airport.
    There are generally few scams at NAIA these days, you have assistance desks throughout the airport, taxis use the meter and immigration is fast and clean!

  5. I am in Manila right now. This “laglag bala” (drop bullet) thing is beyond viral here.
    Apparently it took one brave woman, a Filipino-American, to expose it in facebook:
    Then a young man (Lane Michael White) from Florida was also a victim of the same scam.
    There are many victims both local citizens and foreigners.
    Pretty scary to be going through Manila International Airport nowadays.
    Think twice folks before coming here.

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