Dodging Bullets at Manila Airport

The entire expat community, Fil-Am community, hell the entire Philippines is up in arms over the recent scandal at Manila’s NAIA Airport. If you’ve been living under a rock the last couple of weeks let me summarize.

The scam, which currently involves the investigation of 40 NAIA employees, works like this. You’re trying to get out of Manila; and if you’ve ever been in Manila you certainly know why you want to get out. You run your carry-on items through the x-ray machine, as is done at virtually every airport in the world. A bullet is mysteriously¬†found in your carry on. You are in trouble; arrest is imminent. But of course the issue will go away and you can get on your plane and out of Dodge – for the appropriate number of pesos. The scheme is so sophisticated that apparently spotters were employed to pick the best targets. I’m not sure what constitutes an appropriate target; someone who really, really wants to get out of Manila, I suppose.

The scam works because you are rushing. You want to make your plane and get the hell out of NAIA (the reasons for that will soon become apparent); so a few (often more than a few) pesos is easier than the alternative, which usually involves having to stay in Manila.

I suppose one could also makes the case that the scam works because of the culture. I can’t imagine it would work well in the U.S. where the victim would scream bloody murder, police brutality, racial profiling (even if he was white). TSA would likely throw a few bucks in his pocket just to get him to shut up.

But in the Philippines, a country filled with respectful, quiet people, who only shout while singing karaoke, it works.

In addition, and this adds a tricky element to the proceedings, many Filipinos use a bullet as a good luck charm. In fact 4 people were arrested just yesterday at NAIA for bullets in their carry ons and 3 of the 4 readily admitted they were theirs. One of those arrested said, “It is just stupid to put people in jail for having one or two bullets.” No harm, no foul ūüôā


Now, NAIA has consistently been ranked as the worst airport in the world. Poll after poll over the years have deemed it a complete pit. If you have every been in Terminal 1 or 2 you know why. Collapsing floors, leaking ceilings, long lines, limited seating areas, lousy food, overpriced taxis, and for us foreigners the final shocking indignity Рlousy wifi service.

But a strange thing happened recently. The airport improved (well a little) and this year dropped our of the top 10 (bottom 10, really). Terminal 3 is a big part of the improvement. You can actually sit, there’s a passenger lounge, there is edible food, and you can buy high end perfumes there. They’re even trying to improve seating in Terminal 1.

So here’s my theory. Some higher up type was upset by dropping out of the number 1 spot; they were proud at¬†being number 1 at something, even being number 1 worst. Heads were going to roll. Surely, the world had to once again recognize NAIA for the shithole it really is.

It’s amazing what a few planted¬†bullets can do. Is there any doubt which¬†airport will head the worst list in 2016?

But this blog isn’t about airports or surveys or travel conditions. It’s about being married to a Filipina. So, let’s get to the important stuff.

Janet has been infuriated about this scandal, which in her view is a black stain on all Filipinos. Janet is a simple Pinay and believes in a simple solution for the perpetrators of this dastardly scheme – death.

“They should be shot!” she’s yelled often.

“Well, arrested but not…”

“Shot. That’s the only solution.” Apparently Presidential Candidate¬†Duterte has found his running mate in Janet.

So, now that we have solved what should be done to the perpetrators, Janet brainstormed about what was best the next time we travel to the Philippines.

“We will put locks on all our carry ons,” she stated.

“Kinda hard with my camera bag.” I always travel with a nondescript camera bag for camera, accessories plus anything else I want to bring on board the plane.

I did actually make the mistake of packing a camera in my luggage one time, when I was younger and dumber, worrying that it was too easy to steal out of a standard carry on. The luggage lock was broken and the camera stolen. Fortunately this was not a trip to the Philippines otherwise you’d all be up in arms over the baggage scandal. So now I have a camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag and there are flaps and pouches – not good for padlocks.

Janet was not to be deterred. “We can wrap our carryons in plastic. Tight so they cannot be opened.”

“Well for me the purpose of a carry on is to be able to get into it. So wrapped in plastic wouldn’t work for me.” The kano was clearly being difficult.

I tried to reason with my lovely wife. I explained that travel, especially international travel does have some risk, but that overall we are careful, work hard to minimize risk, and have so much fun traveling that it’s worth the risk. And then I added, “There is one major item that you are not considering in this discussion, darling. We don’t fly out of¬†Manila. We never fly out of Manila.”

She had an answer. “They could start doing it in Cebu.” Apparently the bullet scam is franchising.

Addendum: The current rumor (maybe more than a rumor) is that the 3 arrested Filipinos who admitted to having a bullet or two on them were a set up designed to show that most of those detained were legitimate. All I know is this is much more fun than American scammers who generally wear suits and whose henchmen are the ones carrying the bullets.




10 thoughts on “Dodging Bullets at Manila Airport”

  1. Not in defense of filipinas or bullets, but I will stand up for Terminal 2. Last month we jumped on a flight to Guam and surprise!!!!…Terminal 2 was nowhere to be found! Well, the old Terminal 2 anyway. What a great job they did, looking all new and improved! Looks as nice, or nicer, than Terminal 3. And for what it is worth, we left our lucky travelling bullets at home (.50 cal).

    1. I haven’t been to terminal 2 in a few years. Good to know it’s been improved. Another one of the reasons NAIA dropped out of the top 10.

    1. One’s things for sure. When we live in the Philippines I will totally stay out of politics and do nothing to tell Filipinos how to run their country.

      In my culture, we would call him a “character.” But while his policies are totally contrary to what I might consider appropriate here in the US, in the Philippines it seems to work. Tough love, I suppose.

  2. So here’s a cleaver solution. While you are in Asia go to a currency converting booth and plop down $10 American and ask them to convert that to Vietnamese currency. You will promptly receive 223,000 Vietnamese Dong. If you are nabbed in this scam, tell them, “oh I’m sorry I’m not carrying US Dollars but here’s $500 US in Vietnamese Dong.” Sure looks good with all those zeros!!!!!! My guess is that these scammers are not brain surgeons, won’t have time to actually convert the money and accept your “donation”.

  3. Sounds good Pete. Usually when I am leaving the Philippines I have already spent or cashed out my pesos and have about enough dollars to pay for the cab back home in the US. So I wouldn’t have much cash to give them. Think they’ll take American Express?

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