Ople hits MIAA: Why hassle OFWs over terminal fee refund system?

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Susan “Toots” Ople, advocate for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), criticized the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) over its “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 to refund the P550 that they are not even supposed to pay under our law. Some have decided to forego their refunds for fear of missing their flights. Why treat our OFWs this way?” said Ople in a statement on Wednesday, January 13.

OFWs are exempted by law from paying terminal fees or the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC). But because the new IPSC scheme requires that terminal fees be paid with tickets when they book online and abroad, the exempted OFWs line up at airports to be reimbursed.

The MIAA previously argued 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 Pasay City Regional Trial Court. They call for a permanent injunction against the MIAA’s Memorandum Circular Number 8, series of 2014, which established in 2015 the refund system for OFWs. (READ: Court: Merging of terminal fee and airfare ‘unenforceable'

"How can a mere memorandum amend a law that has been in effect for 19 years? What happens to the non-refunded OFW-paid terminal fees? How much in non-refunded terminal fees have been raised since MC No 8 took effect? Millions of OFWs around the world deserve to know these answers," said Ople, who also heads the Blas F Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.

In 2015, both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed resolutions urging the MIAA to temporarily stop the merging of terminal fees in airline tickets.

Ople on Wednesday urged the MIAA to open more refund counters for departing OFWs so they would not miss their flights due to long lines at NAIA. (READ: Terminal fee integration: 'Thinking out loud’)

She also wants the government to clarify where OFWs departing from airports other than NAIA should go to claim their refunds.

'Like pain in the ass'

Migrant group Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) also renewed its call for the Aquino administration and the Department of Transportation and Communication to stop the MIAA from collecting terminal fees from OFWs.

"The mere collection of terminal fee on [an] OFW is an act that violates a special law. And it can't be corrected by the MIAA refund provision," said M-ME regional coordinator John Monterona.

"It is like pain in the ass for every OFW Balik Manggagawa in getting it refunded with long queues at NAIA," added the Riyadh-based OFW.

Monterona shared that he himself experienced the long lines in NAIA Terminal II when he was departing to Riyadh on December 28, 2015. He said around 200 OFWs were in line but only one airport staff was assigned at the booth for their refunds.

'Di  mo maiwasang magsuspetsa na sinadya ang mabagal na terminal fee refund para madiscourage ang mga OFW Balik Manggagawa na pumila at kunin ang P550 nila (You can't help but be suspicious if they intentionally make the process for the terminal fee refund slow to discourage OFWs from queueing and getting their P550)," said Monterona. 

He said these long lines have already discouraged some OFWs from getting their refunds.

By the way, saan nga pala napupunta ang mga unrefunded terminal [fees] ng mga OFWs? Milyones ang pinag-uusapan natin rito,” Monterona asked.

(By the way, where do the unrefunded terminal fees go? We're talking about millions here.)  Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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