OFWs soon to be automatically exempted from airport terminal fee

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will soon be automatically exempted from paying the airport terminal fee once they purchase airline tickets.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and 40 airline companies operating at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) for this on Wednesday, March 15.

The P550 terminal fee will be waived starting April 30 for face-to-face ticket purchases, and by the end of July for online ticket purchases.

Aside from OFWs, also exempted are pilgrims, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) delegates, and others authorized by law and the Office of the President to travel outside the Philippines.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade touted the exemption as a "simple gift" from President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Regalo ko ito sa mga OFWs pagka't mahal ko sila," Tugade quoted the President as saying. (This is my gift for OFWs because I love them.)

Implementing the law 

According to Section 35 of Republic Act (RA) 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act, OFWs should be exempted from the "payment of travel tax and airport fee upon proper showing of the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) issued by the POEA."

But these fees are currently incorporated into the cost of airline tickets so OFWs still have to line up at airport refund counters to be reimbursed.

OFWs, their advocates, and even the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) have repeatedly complained about this process.

The DOLE earlier said most OFWs don't get their refunds "because of lack of awareness about this privilege or lack of material time to process their claim for refund at the airport."

Return unrefunded fees to OWWA

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, however, is not as happy with this development.

In a press conference on Thursday, March 16, Bello demanded that the terminal fee be scrapped immediately. He also said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) should return all unrefunded OFW travel taxes and terminal fees to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), who is the "trustee of OFWs."

"The law exempting our OFWs took effect 3 years [ago], so dapat hininto nila ang(they should have stopped the) collection as early as 3 years ago. That is why Undersecretary Arellano will confirm with the Solicitor General to come up with a legal action to stop them (the collection of the terminal fee) immediately, not April 30," Bello said.

"And lahat ng collection nila sa mga airline (all collections from the airlines) should be accounted for," he added.

The MIAA had initially announced in November 2016 that the automatic exemption of all OFWs from the terminal fee would start by March to "give the airlines time to update their programs and system." – Rappler.com

Don Kevin Hapal

Don Kevin Hapal is Rappler’s Head of Data and Innovation. He started at Rappler as a digital communications specialist, then went on to lead Rappler’s Balikbayan section for overseas Filipinos. He was introduced to data journalism while writing and researching about social media, disinformation, and propaganda.