MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) supports calls to suspend the automated inclusion of terminal fees in airfares pending a review into how migrant workers’ exemption from the P550 fee can be honored.
Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Laura del Rosario notified Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya in a letter dated March 13 that integrating terminal fees in plane ticket costs may violate the law exempting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from paying the fee.
“The DFA likewise conveys the sentiment of OFWs worldwide in objecting to the collection of the airport terminal fee, as it may cause inconvenience and unnecessary burden on them,” the letter read.
The letter was read aloud by Renato Villa of the DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, the department’s representative during the continuation of the Senate hearing into the fee integration on Tuesday, March 17.
Since February 1, terminal fees amounting to P550 per passenger have been charged in plane tickets bought online and abroad by passengers going through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Under the amended Migrant Workers Act, OFWs are exempted from paying the terminal fee or the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC).
The new IPSC scheme provides for a refund mechanism. But pro-OFW advocacy groups said their exemption is futile if, to begin with, they are made to pay.
The DFA joins advocacy groups, the Senate, select members of the House of Representatives, and the labor department in challenging the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) circular which sanctioned the new IPSC scheme.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz earlier expressed her support for honoring migrant workers’ exemption. Baldoz offered to share to MIAA a state database of registered OFWs, for the airport authority to first develop an automated program that would identify the OFWs when their tickets are purchased online.
This was supported by the Senate in a February 12 resolution urging MIAA to temporarily stop the integration.
In an interview, Senator Cynthia Villar said developing the technology would only take 6 months.
During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Villar questioned MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado on his refusal to stop the fee integration despite calls from various groups for its suspension.
“Ikaw may sarili kang thinking…. Wala kayong pakialam sa OFWs (You have your own thinking… You do not care about OFWs),” she said sternly, drawing cheers from the crowd.
The hearing was attended by member groups of the #NoTo550Coalition, which first challenged the integration before a Pasay court.
The coalition had gained support beyond migrant workers’ groups to include the Catholic Church and the recruitment industry.
Pro-OFW groups alleged that the implementation of the new IPSC scheme was marred by irregularities, including belated consultations with civil society groups.
Advocate Susan Ople said groups were only informed about the integration in July, responding to Honrado’s claim that the first resolution approving the move was issued on February 28.
Ople is the daughter of the late Senator and Labor Minister Blas Ople, one of the authors of the law whose amended version now provides OFWs’ exemption from terminal fee payment.
The Philippines is a known labor-sending country, with some 10 million Filipinos temporarily working or permanently residing overseas.
Abaya has explained that the IPSC scheme is meant to ease congestion at NAIA, notorious for traveler complaints and cited as among the world’s worst airports. (READ: MIAA: Why merging terminal fees in airfares is easy, needed)
But a House committee found that queues in the airport are not at the terminal fee counters.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the law must not be violated just to lessen airport lines. – Rappler.com
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