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OFW groups and advocates seek TRO vs. integrated airport terminal fee

Several Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) groups and advocates filed a formal petition seeking to stop the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) from implementing the integrated airport terminal fee in all airline tickets starting on Nov. 1.

In filing a petition for temporary restraining order against the MIAA Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 08, Series of 2014 before the Pasay City Regional Trial Court this afternoon, the convenors of the #Noto550 Coalition closed ranks to stave off an imminent move to diminish OFWs’ benefits granted to them by law.

According to the #Noto550 Coalition, MIAA MC No. 8 would violate a 19-year old law that grants benefits to millions of OFWs, which include exemption from the payment of travel tax, documentary stamp and airport terminal fee upon proper showing of proof of entitlement which is the overseas employment certificate (OEC) issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

OFW Family Partylist Rep. Roy V. Seneres, the lead petitioner, has named Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya and MIAA General Manager Angel A. Honrado as respondents.

“For OFWs, taking away this benefit through a memorandum circular without the benefit of consultations betrays the spirit of the law and the intention of our legislators,” they said in the petition.

“Just because the airline companies have agreed to this new scheme, the OFWs are now under pressure to comply and give up on a benefit that they’ve been enjoying since 1995,” they added.

MIAA’s MC 8 that was supposed to have been implemented last Oct. 1 but was moved until Nov. 1 mandates airline and travel agencies to integrate the terminal fee of PhP550 in the price of airline tickets for all international passengers, including OFWs.

OFWs are objecting to the circular because it violates an existing law that exempts them from paying airport terminal fees. With the integration policy, migrant workers who buy tickets online or whose employers send them e-tickets will be forced to pay the Php 550 terminal fee despite an exemption that has been in effect for the past 19 years.

Various OFW groups, including the OFW Family Partylist and the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, expressed concern over the new policy of MIAA, describing it as a major setback to the continuous struggle of Filipino migrant workers for economic advancement and recognition of their rights under existing laws.

The #Noto550 Coalition composed of different OFW groups have earlier appealed to President Aquino to direct MIAA to respect the law, and to shelve MC No. 8 until such time when a system can be developed in partnership with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Department of Foreign Affairs that enables such integration to push through without prejudice to the existing exemptions meant for OFWs.

Other members of the #Noto550 Coalition are Gemma Comiso of PinoyExpats/OFW Blog Awards, Engrs. Nelson Ramirez and Bienvenido Lorque of United Filipino Seafarers, Carmelita Nuqui of Philippine Migrants’ Rights Watch, Ellene Sana of Center for Migrant Advocacy, Loreto Soriano of the LBS Recruitment, Elso Cabangon and Rashid Fabricante of Filipino Migrant Workers Group, Sis. Teresa Evasco of Daughters of Charity Migrants Desk, Luther Calderon of KAMPI, Ma. Fe Nicodemus of KAKAMMPI, Patrick Itao and Abby Platero of the Office of Senator Cynthia A. Villar, Edward Era of Filipino Lifeline, Federation of Associations of Manpower Exporters (FEDAMANEX) and Ang Bagong Bayani OFW Labor Party.

Under the MIAA circular, OFWs with tickets bought overseas or online would have to line up at the international airport upon their return to claim a refund for the Php550 terminal fee after filling up a form and upon submission of certain documents.

The #Noto500 Coalition explained the circular flagrantly violates the right of OFWs to be exempted from payment of the airport terminal fee, pursuant to Section 35 of Republic Act 8042 as amended by Republic Act 10022, also known as the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act.

According to the group, MIAA could not simply dodge violating RA 8042 by claiming that the amount collected may be refunded to the OFW upon presentation of an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC).

“The refund will not in any way cure a consummated violation of the law as it would already be a fait accompli. A mere circular cannot amend or disregard a clear provision of the law,” they added. (30)