By RAINIER ALLAN RONDA
The Philippine Star
A Hollywood thriller almost became a reality when a 41-year-old woman bound for Bangkok was arrested after more than 100 snakes and other deadly reptiles were found in her luggage by Customs and airport security personnel at the Manila airport. Erlinda Vergara of Bacolod City was arrested at a baggage check-in counter at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Centennial Terminal at around 10 a.m. Tuesday. She was booked on Philippine Airlines flight PR 730.
Air travel marred by vicious reptiles is a new type of nightmare popularized recently by the movie "Snakes on a Plane’’ starring Samuel Jackson. Customs examiner Cairoden Mangaron said he noticed something suspicious and seemingly moving inside Vergara’s big suitcase when it passed through a baggage x-ray machine. When he opened the bag, Mangaron found 52 plastic bottles containing different kinds of snakes and reptiles. Some of the creatures were dead.
A partial inventory by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Wildlife Trafficking Monitoring Unit agents at the NAIA Terminal II showed the creatures consisted of 50 monitor lizards, 39 cobras, two iguanas, 16 big vipers, and eight small vipers. Theodore Agir of the NAIA-DENR-WTMU said the inventory was incomplete because some of the seized creatures were venomous and required expert handling.
Vergara later told police the suitcase was only entrusted to her by a friend from Bacolod City, whom she declined to name. Vergara, it was learned, arrived at NAIA Terminal II on a domestic flight from Bacolod City, early in the morning. Agir said the security procedures at the Bacolod City airport should be reviewed because of the failure of security authorities there to stop Vergara’s smuggling attempt. Vergara faces criminal charges for illegal trafficking of endangered animals and for violation of Customs laws.
Agir said the seized reptiles are classified as endangered species under the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species and Wildlife. International law bans the cross border transport of such creatures unless an importation permit is secured from authorized agencies such as the DENR.