Airlines refused tech proposal to end terminal fee row

MANILA, Philippines – It's a simple request that would have ended a row between the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and Filipino migrant workers' groups, but local aircraft carriers rejected it due to "huge costs" and "technical complexity."

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was willing to share with MIAA its database of registered overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to ensure their exemption from terminal fee payment even if their plane tickets are bought online or abroad.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz wrote to Senate President Franklin Drilon 3 days before the twice-postponed and disputed merging of terminal fees and airfares, disclosing the middle-ground set-up denied by some local airlines.

"MIAA and the airlines have to prepare their respective computer application systems to enable this proposed data-sharing," Baldoz wrote.

Some airlines refused to accept the deal, she said, citing a reply letter by the MIAA last October 20.

MIAA "informed us that some airlines have reservations in interfacing their system with an external system," the labor chief told Drilon, as a Senate hearing into the new scheme begins.

"Nonetheless, our IT team from POEA is ready to work with MIAA and the airlines if our proposed data-sharing will eventually be considered," Baldoz added.

OFWs are exempted under the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 from paying terminal fees charged against international passengers going through Philippine airports.

Since February 1, however, the terminal fees in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have been included in tickets bought abroad and online under the new International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC) scheme of the MIAA.

The fee won't be charged against OFWs for plane tickets bought locally, as tellers can manually check their documents certifying their registration as OFWs. 

Court case

While the scheme allows for a refund system for OFWs to reimburse the P550 fee, OFW groups said the exemption is futile if, to begin with, they are made to pay.

Groups led by OFW Family Party-list Rep Roy Señeres have assailed the integration before a Pasay court, which had ruled the move "unenforceable" due to the absence of prior public notice. 

MIAA later on proceeded with the fee integration, saying it subsequently abided by the publication requirement anyway.

Señeres' camp believes MIAA should have provided proof of publication to the court, which is still hearing a petition that sought permanent nullification of the disputed MIAA circular sanctioning the integration.

One of the petitioners' lawyers, Rodolfo Tuazon, told Rappler on the sidelines of a court hearing Friday, February 7, "that the act [MIAA has] done is contemptuous of the dignity of the court."

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya came to the defense of the MIAA, saying the IPSC scheme is meant to lessen queues at NAIA.

The Manila airport is notorious for traveler complaints and had been cited as being among the world's worst airports.

Still, petitioners argue their contention is only insofar as the scheme affects OFWs' exemption, and not the integration in general.

"The Department of Labor has already offered its services to integrate the automated system of the POEA with the airlines. So why not wait for that, so that everybody will be happy?" Tuazon asked. – Rappler.com