OFW groups protest airlines' 'earnings' from terminal fees
MANILA, Philippines – Should a Pasay court allow the national government to push through with integrating airport terminal fees in plane ticket payments, Philippine-based airlines will earn in the form of service fees – an arrangement that groups claiming to represent overseas Filipino workers is questioning.
Although the government is putting in place a mechanism to refund the departing OFWs who are exempted from paying terminal fees, the groups still consider as a form of "extortion" the airlines' take from the government-outsourced collection of terminal fees.
The Pasay City Regional Trial Court on Monday, November 17, heard arguments on the temporarily stopped Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) Memorandum Circular No 8 series 2014.
The memorandum circular sanctions the inclusion of terminal fee payments into the airfare of passengers coming from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and bound abroad. Of the P550 ($12.23)* terminal fee that will be charged per passenger, 3.5% or P19.25 will go to the airline as service fee.
The memorandum circular's implementation was temporarily halted for 20 days by the Pasay City RTC, after petitioners led by OFW Family Representative Roy Señeres claimed it unduly affected the migrant workers' sector.
Lawyer Francis de Guzman, who is representing the pro-OFW groups, told Rappler in an interview that the government's mandatory payment to the carrier is a form of "extortion" given its blanket nature.
He said the government will be paying the service fee to carriers even for passengers currently exempted by law from paying terminal fees such as OFWs.
The circular shows that only infants and flight crews are explicitly excluded from the P19.25-per-passenger service fee that the government will pay the carriers.
"It would be futile, if not inconsistent with the concept of exemption from payment, if payment is required to be paid in the first place."
Based on 2013 figures – almost 2 million OFWs left the country or travelled abroad – De Guzman said the arrangement will bring to airlines an estimated P38 million ($845,195) a year.
"That's supposed to be public funds, bakit ipamimigay ng gobyerno (why is the government just giving it away)?" de Guzman asked rhetorically.
However, MIAA finance department head Irene Montalbo explained that the 3.5% service fee would merely be the payment for the work that airlines will render in collecting the terminal fees on behalf of government.
Carriers would have to render their service over the terminal fee collection of the passengers, and MIAA would later on refund the fees of those exempted from paying as prescribed by law.
Under the Migrant Workers Act of 1995, OFWs are exemped from paying terminal fees. However, the groups said in their amended petition filed last November 4 that their exemption is not protected by the reimbursement system eyed under the questioned MIAA circular.
"It would be futile, if not inconsistent with the concept of exemption from payment, if payment is required to be paid in the first place," the petition read.
Testifying from the witness stand, Montalbo however said the government presently shells out P52 million ($1.15 million) for tellers who manually collect terminal fees in NAIA and other needed equipment.
She maintained MIAA's position that the terminal fee integration into airfares is meant to address congestion in NAIA, enabling international passengers departing from the Philippines to no longer wait at terminal queues to pay fees.
Still, De Guzman said the P1.2 billion a year the government is projected to collect from OFWs who are unlikely to reimburse the P550 fee can instead be used for airport upgrade or expansion such that congestion will no longer be a problem.
Under the circular, the airlines' service fees will be automatically deducted from the collected terminal fees they remit to government. – Rappler.com
*US$1 = P44.96