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Monday, December 4, 2023

Extortion of Thai visitor ‘another black eye’ to Philippines, tourism leaders say

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THE latest incident of extortion involving security screeners at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) and a Thai tourist is painting a negative image of the Philippines anew, and local tourism leaders are not happy about it. Videos of the incident have been going viral since last week.

“This incident is another black eye to our tourism industry,” said Roberto Zozobado, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP). “These unscrupulous individuals at the OTS [Office of Transportation Security] should realize that their misdeeds put to waste the valuable gains we, tourism stakeholders, work so hard to achieve for our industry, especially now that we’re still recovering from almost three years of forced hibernation.”

He urged Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista, whose agency oversees the OTS with whom the screeners were employed, to show “an iron hand at our airports to rid them of these shameless employees. We, at TCP, would be happy to offer training programs for OTS personnel, in cooperation with the Department of Tourism’s [DOT] ongoing training seminars on the Filipino brand of service.”

Prior to the extortion of the Thai tourist, a New Zealand tourist was fatally shot as he tried to protect his girlfriend from robbers, as the couple was walking along a street in Makati City. (See, “NZ govt keeps Level 2 travel advice for PHL after Kiwi slay,” in the BusinessMirror, February 27, 2023.)

Viral videos

The videos of the extortion at Terminal 2 of the Naia were uploaded on Facebook by Thai tourist Piyawat Gunlayaprasit on February 22. He said the female screening officer initially denied she had pocketed ¥20,000 (P8,000) in cash from another Thai tourist  Kitja Thabthimm, until he confronted her with the video he took of the incident. She then pleaded Piyawat to delete the video (https://bit.ly/3IYPUfq).

For her part, Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa) President Fe Abling-Yu said in Filipino, “This is not a good image for the country for visiting foreign tourists…. [The OTS] should instead be helping because they are in the gateway to the country. We in the private sector have been pushing so tourist arrivals increase in our country, but because of these incidents, foreigners are losing confidence in us.”

Speaking on Teleradyo’s SRO late Monday, the tourism leader said, “If the [security screeners’] violation is proven, maybe they should be given the appropriate punishment, so they are made examples [and] the others won’t be brazen enough to do the same.”

‘Isolated incidents’

Abling-Yu said the tourism industry “regularly coordinates with our partners in other countries in different parts of the world to continue bringing tourists to our country and we always assure them that these are just isolated cases and our government will [crack down] on such incidents,” also referring to the killing of the New Zealand tourist.

The DOT is targeting an increase in foreign visitor arrivals to 4.8 million this year, up 81 percent from last year’s 2.65 million arrivals. Prior to the pandemic, the Philippines attracted a historic-high of 8.3 million foreign tourists in 2019. It was among the first countries in Asia to reopen to international travel last year.

In a news statement on Monday, the OTS said five security screeners on duty during the extortion incident had already been placed under preventive suspension. Appropriate administrative cases will be filed against them, as well as possible separate criminal charges in court. (See, “Aplasca vows to rid OTS of ‘scalawags,’ in the BusinessMirror, February 27, 2023.)

This is the second time in just a month that the OTS  found itself in hot water after one female officer was caught on video maliciously frisking members of the Korean boy band Enhypen. (See, “Netizens in uproar over Enhypen frisking, filming,” in the BusinessMirror, February 6, 2023.) The OTS  has yet to give an update on said incident.

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