Diminishing benefits for OFWs
By: Susan V. Ople
A controversy over the forthcoming integration of airport terminal fees in all air tickets to be purchased by passengers bound for or departing from the Philippines lays bare continued threats to benefits granted by law to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Pursuant to Republic Act No. 8042, as amended by Republic Act No. 10022, Filipino migrant workers are exempted from the payment of travel tax, documentary stamp and airport terminal fee upon proper showing of proof of entitlement which is the overseas employment certificate (OEC) issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
This law is now being set aside in favor of Memorandum Circular no. 08, series of 2014, issued by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) that will take effect on Nov. 1. Under this circular, OFWs will be exempted from paying the terminal fee amounting to Php550 for tickets purchased within the Philippines. However, for tickets obtained online and outside of the country, the terminal fee will be collected by default subject to refund by OFWs upon presentation of their OEC at designated counters in airport terminals or at the MIAA office.
Why the difference in treatment for tickets locally purchased as against those purchased online or overseas? In its letter to the POEA, MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado said: “It was noted that some airlines have declared that it is impossible to interface their system with an external system while most cited technical complexity and the huge cost to be incurred which can only be estimated once the complete documentation of changes has been prepared.”
Thus, despite the offer of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to share its database with MIAA to ensure compliance with the law, technical issues and high costs prevent private airline companies from serving as the implementing arm of this law.
Unfortunately, the net effect of such technical failures is the monstrous and unfair shifting of burden to the already sagging shoulders of millions of overseas workers — they will have to pay a terminal fee that a law exempts them from, and they will have to line up to get a refund for a fee that they should not have been asked to pay in the first place.
This is another example of how concrete and legal benefits extended to Filipino workers overseas is being diminished through executive fiat. Since 1995, these so-called modern-day heroes have been enjoying the privilege of not paying airport terminal fees that MIAA now dubs as the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC). MIAA has announced that there is no turning back on their plan to implement the integration plan by Nov. 1.
It has chosen to disregard the appeal of no less than Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz who asked that MIAA complete “all the necessary preparations and systems” to ensure the continued automatic exemption of OFWs from payment of terminal fee and other fees provided by laws.
It is time that OFWs unite and make their voices heard to protect what little benefits they enjoy because of existing laws. It simply does not make sense to remove terminal fee counters to ease congestion in Philippine airports while creating a new line for OFWs to claim their refunds.