British traveler recounts ‘laglag bala’ ordeal in 2012

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On Wednesday, media outlets uncovered a 2012 report on popular travel site TripAdvisor about the “laglag bala” scam. A certain “BritPaul” from Northamptonshire, United Kingdom, wrote on the travel website that a member of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport staff found a bullet casing inside the bag of her daughter.

The airport staff allegedly offered to fix the problem by erasing the security X-Ray image in exchange for USD1,000. “BritPaul” wrote his TripAdvisor report on Sept 18, 2012Coconuts Manila got in touch with “BritPaul” and a Paul Honeywell replied to us.

READ: Throwback: Laglag bala testimony on TripAdvisor in 2012

“I was very upset at the time as I felt that officials were actually criminals, taking money under extortion from innocent travelers, at a time when the Philippines were being promoted as a world-class tourist destination. It brings shame on your country and people responsible should be punished,” he told Coconuts Manila.

Honeywell said he wasn’t able to pursue filing a case as he mentioned in his TripAdvisor review because he became “very busy and time slipped by”. He attached a typewritten document of his daughter’s experience in NAIA. We are printing it in full below:

In 2012, my boyfriend Oliver and I embarked on a 2-month trip around South East Asia. We decided to finish up our trip exploring somewhere neither of us had been before: The Philippines.

It is, hands down, one of the most magnificent places I have ever travelled to. We went to an island called Malapascua, which took five days to get to. A two-day bus ride (where half the passengers were chickens and goats) and two boat trips. The highlight of the trip was a 5am dive, in which we saw Thresher Sharks closer than three meters. I still think about that day now, and consider it to be one of the best days of my life. The people. The setting. The colours. The smells.

But, unfortunately, there is a darker side to the trip, that has left a very sour taste in my mouth. Having travelled from Cebu to Manila via an overnight boat, we arrived into Manila in the evening, and jumped in a taxi to the airport, where we were due to catch a flight to Bangkok. If I’m honest, Manila had a scary feeling to it almost immediately, and I was happy to arrive at the airport, where I felt that we would be in professional hands.

Upon arriving, we were told to stand in a queue for our bags to get scanned before even entering the airport; not a procedure I had ever had to do before, and I remember remarking that it was odd. When it came to my bag being scanned, I confidently put it through, and even more confidently waited for it to come out the other side. I had packed re-packed my bag the night before, and I knew exactly what was inside. To my surprise though, a guard called me over and pointing to my bag, asked me if it was mine.

I said yes, and I remember him saying “the scan has detected bullets in your case. Come with me.” He then led me behind the desk and showed me an image of “my bag” with a clear picture of a bullet. “See, see, bullet!” he exclaimed, over and over.

I was obviously very shocked, but I was still confident there had been a mistake so had no problem whatsoever when he asked if he could open it up to do a search. Looking back, it was here that I made a mistake. I let him go through the contents, rather than going through myself. But as a 22-year-old who had travelled a few times with no problems, I thought the stories you heard about scams would never happened to me.

“Ma’am, you’re not going to be able to board your flight” were his next words, as he opened his palm to reveal 4/5 bullets from my luggage. By this point, I was very scared. He showed me “official documents” stating that bullets were illegal, told me he was going to have to arrest me, said I would need to be formally questioned. I remember panicking and starting to cry. And wondering where on earth they had come from, had someone put them in my bag on the boat to get rid of them after a crime? Had the taxi driver planted them on me?

He then told me that I needed to calm down, and to move to the side. So I did, and he quietly told me that if I stopped making a fuss, he could erase the image for me, and no one who ever know. He said “he would help me, if I helped him,” and it was obvious the “helping him” would come down to cash being exchanged. I asked how much, and he said US$1000, money that at the end of our trip, I simply did not have.

I had to tell him, over and over, that I didn’t have that much money, and it ended up [with] him asking how much I did have because I was getting extremely flustered and upset. As it was four days before we were back in England, I only had about £200 and so offered him £100, which he accepted. Readily.

We didn’t have cash though, so he most generously offered to escort my boyfriend to a cash point outside the airport, past a number of armed guards, to get the money. I was too scared to go, and was extremely nervous the whole time Oliver was gone. I was a young, blonde, fair skinned woman in a country on my own, and never had that been more apparent than those five minutes. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and was so vulnerable.

Once the cash was handed over, the guard disappeared. And we didn’t see him again, even though it took us several hours to leave the area. It was a sad end to a lovely trip. And I will say this: it was only after the situation had happened that I realised it was a scam, and I would have parted with the US$1000 had I had it, it was simply too convincing, and I was too vulnerable. I was shaken for a long time, and unfortunately it is still the story that I feel compelled to tell people about my trip, as a word of warning that the Philippines are not just pretty beaches.

Lucy Honeywell

Maan D’Asis Pamaran assisted in this report



– ‘Laglag Bala’ Scam almost cost Filipino choir is international competition win
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The brave and honest men of Cuenca (and there’s more where they came from)
Watch the special Coconuts TV documentary on the Southeast Asian haze crisis

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