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OFW groups welcome Senate probe on integrated airport terminal fee

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) groups and advocates today welcomed Sen. Koko Pimentel’s plan to initiate a Senate investigation into the government’s plan to integrate the airport terminal fee in airline tickets for international passengers, including OFWs.

Kenji Solis, founder of the Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards, Inc. (PEBA) and a Filipino community leader based in Saudi Arabia, said the Senate inquiry will enable all stakeholders to present their side in an impartial and fair manner.

“We welcome and support the move of Senator (Koko) Pimentel to call for a Senate inquiry into MIAA’s Memorandum Circular No. 08. A Senate inquiry presents an impartial and fair venue for all stakeholders to be heard. Our coalition urges MIAA to defer the implementation of the IPSC in deference to the forthcoming hearings in the Senate as well as in the Lower House,” Solis said.

“All we are asking is for MIAA to acknowledge and respect the rights granted to OFWs under the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995, and as amended by RA 10022. Those rights include exemption from paying the travel tax, documentary stamps, and airport terminal fees. There is no mention in the law about a process to obtain refunds, or for OFWs to pay now and be exempt later,” he added.

The #Noto550 Coalition appealed to MIAA to defer its date of implementation slated on November 1 to next year after all unresolved issues are threshed out.

“Certainly, there should be room for dialogue and time to explore a fair and universally acceptable process for integration of terminal fees. All we are after, as OFWs, is for the law that grants us exemptions to be followed by the very government that ought to implement it,” Solis said.

PEBA is among 14 OFW groups that have signed a petition filed by OFW Family Partylist Rep Roy V. Seneres before RTC Pasay City for a Temporary Restraining Order against MIAA’s Memorandum Circular No. 8 on the so-called International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC), also known as airport terminal fee integration.

Other members of #Noto550 Coalition include OFW Family Partylist Rep. Roy Seneres, Ma. Susan “Toots” Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, 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 and Ang Bagong Bayani OFW Labor Party.

MIAA’s MC No. 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.

Last Tuesday, the #Noto550 Coalition has filed a motion before the Pasay RTC for a temporary restraining order against MIAA MC No. 8 which is scheduled to be implemented on Nov. 1.  Court hearing has been set tomorrow, Oct. 30.

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).

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.

OFW groups have described the MIAA MC No. 8 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 has been appealing 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.

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)