MANILA, Philippines – Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado resisted on Monday, February 9, senators' proposal to temporarily halt the disputed merging of terminal fees and airfares.
Honrado told a Senate committee he "will not recommend" the proposed suspension but will "convey it to the MIAA board," upsetting migrant workers' groups present during the legislative hearing.
He said the decision to stop the terminal fee integration, which affects overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who will buy tickets online and abroad, is up to the entire MIAA board.
Senators called for the suspension of terminal fee charges in airfares, pending a system that can identify OFWs when buying plane tickets abroad and online.
OFWs are exempted from terminal fees. But MIAA's move, implemented last February 1, integrated terminal fee payments into plane ticket costs, forcing OFWs to instead refund fees they have paid online and abroad.
All 4 senators present during the hearing sided with pro-OFW groups in opposing the MIAA move.
Senators Cynthia Villar, Alan Peter Cayetano, Koko Pimentel, and Nancy Binay each grilled Honrado, underscoring how the integration jeopardizes OFWs' law-mandated exemption from terminal fee payment.
There are 10 million Filipinos working or living overseas. President Benigno Aquino III envisions "a government that creates jobs at home so that working abroad will be a choice rather than a necessity."
Automated identification system
Cayetano insisted on a system that would assign a code to each OFW for his or her exemption to be honored even online.
Technology strategist John Dennis Poyotas from Microsoft Philippines said such a system is possible, but failed to provide the estimated costs of developing the technology.
In a letter to Senate President Franklin Drilon, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz disclosed that her department had already proposed a data-sharing scheme to enable the automated identification of registered OFWs.
Citing a reply-letter from the MIAA, she said the proposal was rejected by some airlines, without naming which ones.
Socorro Gonzaga, who was present during the Monday hearing to represent the Philippine Airlines (PAL), said they will comply with whatever system the government comes up with. Asked by Cayetano if the proposed automated technology is possible, Gonzaga said they will work with their systems provider to help develop it.
Susan Ople, an advocate of migrant workers' rights, saw Honrado's move not to endorse the proposed suspension as the reason many Filipinos harbor resentment towards the government. "Kaya ang daming masama ang loob sa gobyerno natin," she said.
"Missing yung senstivity sa manggagawa, sensitivity sa batas. At medyo nakakalungkot yung ganon," she said. (The sensitivity to workers, sensitivity to the law is not there. And that is upsetting.)