OFWs wail against government’s failure to refund P700-million terminal fees

In Photo: Passengers, including departing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), wait for their flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1. Most of our OFWs do not bother to get their terminal fee refund because of the bureaucracy at the premier airport.

By Recto Mercene

THE Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) on Thursday said a Malacañang technical working group (TWG) is still trying to determine how much unclaimed terminal fee the premier airport has in its hand. However, the recruitment sector estimates that some P700 million had been put into the premier airport’s coffers based on the 1.3 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) deployed last year.

“Malacañang has a technical working group focused on getting that done,” said Miaa Spokesman David de Castro, when asked how much money remains unrefunded to OFWs.

“The TWG is still coming up with the technology solution. This will help especially in allowing automatic exemptions for OFWs. At the moment, [there’s] no way of determining which fees are from the OFWs, as collections are not necessarily labeled,” de Castro added.

He said unrefunded terminal fees are set aside by the Miaa and OFWs can still ask for refund upon their arrival in Manila or on their next scheduled departure.

“As per our memo on the IPSC [International Passenger Service Charge], OFWs may opt to have their terminal fee refunded anytime, even after many years,” de Castro said.

He said there is no expiration period for refunds but the OFWs are required to present the pertinent documents as stipulated in the Miaa memo.

OFWs advocate Susan “Toots” Ople told the BusinessMirror that she has no figures on the amount that had accrued with the Miaa from the OFW terminal fee. She said this amount should be available from Miaa Manager Jose Angel A. Honrado.

“Ask him how much has been collected from OFWs who bought tickets online and overseas. Then ask how much was refunded,” Ople replied in a text message.

At the same time, Ople slammed the “relentless violation” of the Migrant Workers Act by the integration of airport terminal fees in plane tickets.

“There is a continuing injustice going on when OFWs are forced to line up for a refund of the P550 they are not even supposed to pay under our law,” Ople said.

She said many OFWs do not bother to collect the fee on fear of missing their flights.

The OFWs are exempted by law from paying terminal fees or the IPSC.

However, the Miaa adopted a new IPSC scheme, requiring that terminal fees be paid with tickets when they book online and abroad, saying that the integration is meant to ease congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).

Ople, former labor undersecretary who is running for senator, is part of a coalition of OFW groups that filed a case before the Regional Trial Court in Pasay City calling for a permanent injunction against the Miaa’s Memorandum Circular (MC) 8, Series of 2014, which established in 2015 the refund system for OFWs.

She said a memorandum cannot amend a law that has been in effect for 19 years.

“What happens to the nonrefunded OFW-paid terminal fees? How much in nonrefunded terminal fees have been raised since MC 8 took effect? Millions of OFWs around the world deserve to know these answers,” said Ople, who heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.

In 2015 both houses of Congress passed a resolution, urging the Miaa to temporarily stop the merging of terminal fees in airline tickets. The recruitment agencies, on the other hand, said the close to 1.3 million OFWs that were deployed last year represent those hired by principals, shipping lines and recruitment agencies, who were forced to pay the P550 terminal fee in behalf of the OFWs.

“Based on estimates for 2015 deployment, it is safe to say that last year, 1.3 million OFWs were deployed, a bit lower than 2014,” Spokesman Manny Geslani said. He added that the total terminal fee collection last year would amount to P700 million.

Since the 2015 figures are not yet available, Geslani provided a comparison by releasing the 2014 data that shows:

  • New Hires (land based)-487,176
  • Rehires  (land based)-943,666
  • Seabased workers-401,826

Total deployment: 1,832.668.

He said legislators, led by Rep. Carlo Nograles of the First District of Davao, have questioned  Honrado under what authority the Miaa was able to keep the private funds of Ofws who have paid for the IPSC.

“What will happen to the funds if they are not refunded? Where will the unrefunded funds be kept?” Nograles asked.

Migrant group Migrante-Middle East also renewed its call for the Aquino administration and the Department of Transportation and Communications to stop the Miaa from collecting terminal fees from OFWs.

Jonnix Sebastian, who left on Tuesday, said he was trying to get a refund but was told by the bank to get the ticket-fare breakdown at the airline at the predeparture lounge near boarding gates. He was told to come back to get his refund after his papers are signed by airline representatives.

He left without getting the refund.

The BusinessMirror interviewed Joseph Almenanza, the Land Bank of the Philippines teller assigned at the refund counter, who said that his office requires three documents to be presented before a refund is given:  An Overseas Employment Certificate, a printed copy of any documents clearly showing payment of terminal fee and presentation of boarding passes.

He said long lines would form almost every day during the afternoon flights where three Middle East carriers are scheduled to depart within 30 minutes. He said many OFWs simply abandon their quest for a refund, bored at the long wait or fearing that they will miss their flight.

Many of the OFWs complained of “red tape” at the airport’s refund counters, saying the personnel on duty at the booths are asking too many requirements.

In 2014 the Miaa claimed that the merging of terminal fees and airfares would ease congestion at the Naia terminals.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes


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