Various Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) groups and advocates have formed a united front against the implementation of the integration of airport terminal fees in all airline tickets by November 1, 2014.
“OFWs have already sacrificed so much for their families and their country. It is unjust and unfair to ask them to sacrifice even more as a result of this new policy that deprives them of one of the few benefits granted by law,” the #noto550 coalition wrote in their position paper which they recently presented to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.
Among the members of the #noto550 Coalition are Kenji Solis and 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, Lizabeth Platero of the Office of Senator Cynthia A. Villar, Hannah Seneres of the OFW Family Partylist, and OFW advocate Susan “Toots” Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.
The Ople Center hopes that legislators can conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the plan of MIAA considering that there is an existing law exempting OFWs from paying terminal fees.
The #noto550 Coalition also supports the plan of OFW Party-List Representative Roy Seneres to file a case in court to stop MIAA from implementing the IPSC unless the legal exemptions for OFWs are upheld.
According to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), the new policy aims to decongest the airports. Though originally scheduled for implementation on October 1, MIAA and DOTC decided to defer its policy on terminal fees or the Integrated Passenger Service Charge (IPSC) due to the intervention of Rep. Seneres during the budget deliberations of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) and its attached agencies.
The integration of the IPSC or terminal fee will be implemented simultaneously by all airlines worldwide and shall also cover passengers transiting Manila to any destination point. The entire process will go through a transition period and is expected to be fully implemented by October 2015, when all tickets purchased/issued prior to November 1, 2014 shall have been used. Under the scheme, the services of the air carriers will be engaged in the collection of the IPSC through its inclusion in the airline ticket.
However, OFW advocate Susan Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-profit organization that specializes in labor and migration issues, said that overseas workers’ groups in different countries are dismayed over the MIAA’s decision to push through with the implementation of the terminal fee integration in airline tickets by November 1, 2014.
“We urge the MIAA and DOTC to respect the provisions of the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995, as amended by Republic Act No. 10022 that clearly grant to all overseas workers an exemption from paying the airport terminal fee,” she said.
“Obtaining a refund is already an admission that such fees were paid thus negating a specific benefit granted to our OFWs by law,” she added.
The OFW sector is objecting to MIAA’s inclusion of terminal fees in airline tickets on the following grounds:
1. Air tickets bought by foreign employers for OFWs, and air tickets paid for by the OFWs, will also include the terminal fee by November 1, 2014. However, MIAA itself admitted that airline offices and travel agencies based abroad do not recognize and are not bound by Philippine law exempting OFWs from paying terminal fees. Hence, you have a situation wherein OFWs are able to enjoy their exemptions from terminal fees only when tickets are bought locally because airline companies and travel agencies in the Philippines recognize the POEA-issued OECs as basis for exemptions for OFWs. This discriminates against OFWs abroad, who through no fault of their own, are now being asked to pay the terminal fees in contravention of an existing law granting them an exemption.
2. Foreign employers are bound to react negatively upon learning of the new MIAA policy, and nothing stops them from charging to its Filipino workers the cost of the terminal fee. This once again contravenes the provisions of the Migrant Workers’ Act, exempting our workers from paying such fee.
3. MIAA assures OFWs that they can obtain refunds at the airport, but the process they have outlined is cumbersome, especially for OFWs that have limited time to spend with their families (i.e. those on vacation or emergency leaves).
4. The OFW sector also questions the wisdom and legality behind the creation of a Trust Fund by MIAA to hold on to non-refunded terminal fees due to the inability of OFWs to claim such refunds. What is the legal basis for such funds? What will this fund be called? Lito Soriano, a recruitment industry leader and a former OFW, said that this fund could easily reach millions because most OFWs would not be able to find the time to claim the refund during their brief stay in the country.
5. While OFWs like all Filipinos dream of a world-class airport, they question the move of MIAA to implement a new system with little or no direct consultations with OFWs across the globe through Philippine embassies and consulates. An OFW who sought an explanation from the Philippine Embassy in Singapore was surprised by the lack of awareness about the new policy among embassy personnel.
The #NoTo550 Coalition vowed to sustain their campaign in the news media, including social media and other social networking sites, until the integrated terminal fee is finally rescinded. (30)