overseas Filipinos

NAIA technical issue causes disrupted work, 14-hour wait for some OFWs

Michelle Abad
NAIA technical issue causes disrupted work, 14-hour wait for some OFWs

Passengers build up at the check out counters of the NAIA Terminal 3 in Pasay City on January 2, 2023, following the technical glitch the airport experienced on New Year's day which caused multiple cancellation of inbound and outbound flights in the country.


(1st UPDATE) The Department of Migrant Workers directs recruitment and manning agencies to help explain the cause of flight delays to employers of OFWs

MANILA, Philippines – Some overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based in Hong Kong recounted a 14-hour rebooking wait or continue to face disrupted work following “technical issues” in the country’s air traffic management system on New Year’s Day, January 1, which caused thousands of passengers dilemmas with their scheduled flights.

Nets, a domestic worker who asked her surname be withheld, was unable to go to her job in Hong Kong on her scheduled early morning flight on January 2. “It’s big trouble especially [on] my employer’s part because they need to go back to work tomorrow,” she said on the evening of her supposed flight.

On Tuesday, January 3, Nets said her employer was able to rebook her flight to January 7. Nets, who is from North Cotabato, is staying in Davao City while she waits for her flight to Manila, and then to Hong Kong.

Ang hirap kasi out of budget na ako. Galing pa ako North Cotabato then dito ako sa Davao magpapa-flight going to Manila… Magastos na umuwi kasi mahal ang pamasahe,” she said.

(It’s difficult because I’m now out of budget. I came from North Cotabato, and I’ll fly to Manila from here in Davao… It’s too expensive to go home because fares are high.)

While her employer asked what they could do to help, Nets insisted on spending for her own week-long food and accommodation while she waits for her flight going to Hong Kong.

On January 1, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople placed all Migrant Workers Offices (formerly Philippine Overseas Labor Offices) on alert to help OFWs stranded at posts due to flight cancellations and delays at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Migrant Workers Undersecretary Hans Cacdac and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief Arnell Ignacio were also at NAIA to assist stranded OFWs. The department transported OFWs with cancelled flights to free hotel accommodations upon Ople’s orders.

14-hour wait

Ivy Bactadan, another domestic worker who was stranded at the airport on January 1, was able to take a rebooked flight to Hong Kong on January 2. But the rebooking process was a 14-hour wait at the airport.

Bactadan checked in at 10 am for her 3 pm flight on January 1. She waited at the gate and was close to flying, only to hear an announcement that she and her fellow passengers’ flights were cancelled.

Ang pila namin sa rebooking ng flights sa ticketing office. Pumila ako from 4 pm ’til 6:30 am ng January 2,” Bactadan told Rappler. (We lined up to rebook our flights at the ticketing office. I was in line from 4 pm until 6:30 am on January 2.)

Ang mga kasama ko, pinagbayad ng additional P5,000 dahil daw ang na-booked na ticket ng amo nila is mura, kaya kailangang magdagdag para makalipad sila ng January 2. Otherwise, January 12 na ang earliest na makakalipad sila nang libre. Siyempre, para makalipad, wala silang choice kundi magbayad,” she added.

(My companions had to pay an additional P5,000 because the tickets their employers booked were cheap, so they had to pay more to fly out on January 2. Otherwise, January 12 was the earliest they could fly out for free. Of course, so that they could fly out, they didn’t have a choice except to pay.)

The OFW said while thousands were stranded at the ticketing office, only four counters were open, and some passengers took around 10 to 15 minutes to transact. Bactadan, who was sleepless and mostly standing in line, was ready to go back home to Baguio, anticipating that she wouldn’t be able to book the earliest flight to Hong Kong.

“‘Yung iba, di na nakapag-antay, lumayas na lang at di na nag-rebook (Some couldn’t wait anymore and left without rebooking),” she said.

Bactadan said she had no issues with food, as airport staff provided three “proper” meals which included adobo and rice.

Sobrang nag-alala ang mga amo ko, maya’t maya ang text nila sa akin kung ano na ang nangyayari sa akin sa airport. Nasabi ko sa kanila na baka di ako makalipad agad. Naawa sila sa akin sa sitwasyon ko sa airport kaya sabi nila ‘wag daw akong mag-alala. Kung di ako makalipad agad, okay lang. At least makita ko ulit ang pamilya ko,” she said.

(My employers were so worried about me, and they asked me how I was doing at the airport. I told them that I might not be able to fly out immediately. They felt bad for me with my situation at the airport, so they said I shouldn’t worry. If I couldn’t fly out immediately, it would be okay. At least I would be able to see my family again.)

Bactadan said her employers treat her like family, and she was rushing back to Hong Kong to see one of the kids she looks after before the kid flies back to the United Kingdom on January 6. Instead of extending her vacation in the Philippines, she chose to return to work on January 2, fearing being stranded for longer.

On January 3, the DMW tapped private recruitment and manning agencies to monitor and assist OFWs affected by the technical issue.

Ople directed the agencies to help OFWs explain the cause of delays in their travel to their employers “to ensure that workers’ employment are secure and unaffected.”

Expenses, rebooking

Nets and Bactadan said their employers were understanding of the delay – but some OFWs did not have the same peace of mind.

In a report from CNN Philippines, visibly distressed OFW Nora dela Cruz worried her job was in limbo after she was offloaded from her flight to Hong Kong.

What if i-terminate ako, sinong magbibigay ng trabaho ko dito? Wala, ‘di ba? Naggastos pa kami kasi nag-booking nang nag-booking, wala namang nangyari. Kaya nate-tense kami. ‘Yan ba ang turing ng isang OFW na ‘bayani’? Hindi,” said Dela Cruz.

(What if I get terminated, who will give me work here? No one, right? We spent so much because of so many bookings, and nothing happened. That’s why we are feeling tense. Is this how you treat OFWs who are so-called heroes? No.)

Ople later reported that the department was able to speak to Dela Cruz. “She’s okay, and is now with her employer. Her frustration was with rebooking because she had missed an earlier flight by just a few minutes,” Ople said in a mix of English and Filipino.

In a statement on Thursday, January 5, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-Migrante) condemned the incident.

“We demand a faster response. The Department of Migrant Workers assisted stranded migrant workers, but we hope they could be more proactive in finding these workers instead of just announcing their hotline,” said Unifil-Migrante chairperson Dolores Balladares-Pelaez.

“We demand accountability. We hope that this ‘technical issue’ will not be used to justify the privatization of the NAIA,” she added. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.