MIAA: OFWs' P550 refund claimable years after a flight

SENATE HEARING. MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado defends the terminal fee integration before a Senate panel. Photo by Ariel Cagadas

SENATE HEARING. MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado defends the terminal fee integration before a Senate panel.

Photo by Ariel Cagadas

MANILA, Philippines – Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who bought their plane tickets online and abroad can refund the P550 terminal fees charged in their airfares at any time, even years after their flight.

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado said on Tuesday, March 17, the refund scheme will be in place without any expiration.

"[The] refund has no expiration. MIAA is obligated to refund anytime someone [who] comes up for refund," he explained in a text message to Rappler.

He, however, fell short of answering queries on where interest accrued from the deposited and yet to be refunded fees would go. Pro-OFW groups have cited barriers in refunding, such as time constraints given short vacations they have. 

Honrado, however, earlier explained that the refunding would only take 60 seconds and will be executed by the Land Bank of the Philippines in airport counters. "After one year, the tellers would be recycled," he said.

The MIAA manager appeared in a Tuesday Senate hearing on the terminal fee integration, which the agency implemented starting February 1 but which other agencies and non-governmental groups supporting OFWs are opposing. (READ: DFA: Suspend terminal fee integration pending review)

The new scheme integrates the P550 International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC) in plane ticket costs, forcing passengers exempt from terminal fee payment to instead reimburse the P550 charged in tickets purchased overseas or online.

The scheme covers international passengers through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The amended Migrant Workers Act exempts OFWs from IPSC payment.

PANEL. Senators Koko Pimentel and Cynthia Villar grill MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado on his support of the terminal fee integration. Photo by Ariel Cagadas

PANEL. Senators Koko Pimentel and Cynthia Villar grill MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado on his support of the terminal fee integration.

Photo by Ariel Cagadas

Legal dispute

Before the Senate panel, former migrant worker Edward Era of the pro-OFW Filipino Lifeline Incorporated alleged that reports have reached his group that refund counters in NAIA are hard to locate.

Pro-OFW advocate Susan Ople cited an OFW's account that the reimbursement process was a "malaking abala (huge inconvenience)."

The narration written in Filipino alleged that an OFW had to go back and forth where the refund counters are, a claim Honrado negated. (READ: MIAA: Why merging terminal fees in tickets is needed, easy)

Senator Cynthia Villar also alleged that the MIAA circular sanctioning the terminal fee integration was issued ahead of a MIAA board resolution, defying protocol.

She said the groups will run to the Supreme Court (SC), given Honrado's insistence on implementing the IPSC scheme. "I will do everything for you to recall this order," she told Honrado, questioning his refusal to heed calls from different sectors.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III also said the MIAA may be investigated by the Ombudsman over "an error in the application or interpretation of law, rules or regulations, or a gross or palpable error in the appreciation of facts."

The IPSC scheme is seen to be a violation of the Migrant Workers Act of 1995, whose amended version provides that OFWs are exempted from the IPSC. Groups say the reimbursement mechanism fails to recognize OFWs' exemption, since they are still made to pay in the first place. 

The case is still pending after MIAA, through Associate Solicitor Kristan Carlos Kristobal, asked the concerned Pasay judge to inhibit.

Villar dismissed MIAA's move as a mere dilatory tactic meant to prolong the case, which Kristobal denied. The government lawyer said they are merely exhausting all legal remedies available to them.

While acknowledging that MIAA may have no intention to delay the Pasay proceedings, Pimentel said that was the effect of the move for the judge's inhibition. – Rappler.com