Manila: A senator is urging the Presidential Palace to put up special desks at the country’s major airports to respond to concerns of passengers, particularly about baggage pilferage.
“The reported rash in the theft of checked baggage in airports should prompt the establishment of a Palace detachment in major airports,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said on Thursday.
Theft is a perennial grievance at the country’s airports. Although there had already been complaints in the past from passengers losing items from inside their baggage, pilferage has gone from bad to worse in recent months and, according to the Senator, any of the 50 million travellers who go through the country’s airports could become a victim at any time.
“For those flying in from abroad who have lost their belongings, we don’t know if the stealing was done here or outside the country. But at the very least, there should be a help desk that victims can go to,” Recto said.
There have been horror stories of passengers finding their checked-in baggage opened and contents stolen. In some cases, even luggage secured by padlocks were found opened.
Recto said a global tourism campaign packaging the country as a destination where visitors could have fun were negated by the bad press “of mulcting taxi drivers and stolen luggage.”
He cited a recent case where the wife of a diplomat was a victim. He said the jewellery of the wife of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was ransacked last August by the so-called Maleta Gang (luggage pilferers).
“Maleta Gang is giving our country a bad image and it will have an effect on our tourism industry,” Recto said while pointing out that four baggage handlers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila had already been arrested in connection with the case.
Recto called on the government to dismantle syndicates in airports, which are stealing from the bags of passengers, and to use the income derived from air travel fees to institute measures that will keep baggage “safe, intact and protected.”
“The country has been able to eliminate the so-called lag-lag bala [bullet planting modus] at the airports, but if these pilferers persist and items brought in by overseas Filipinos who worked hard abroad are stolen, then this is really bad,” he said.
Recto proposes that President Rodrigo Duterte put up “Duterte Action Desks” or DAD, one-stop action centres at the airports.
He said the President can make use of his tough image or the “Duterte fear factor” to scare wrong-doers at the airport.
“That desk that will carry the presidential seal. This will already be enough to serve as a deterrent against all forms of airport irregularities,” he said.
Recto added that the “DAD” will not simply be a complaint centre. “It can also receive commendations for good service rendered.”
Recto likewise proposed that CCTVs be installed at the baggage handling areas.
“If it is necessary that baggage handlers wear body cameras,” then we should do it,” he said.
He said money should not be a problem in transforming the major airports’ image as an “honest institution,” as the country would be making revenue from these facilities in the form of Travel Tax and Aviation Security Fee, among others.