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OFW groups close ranks vs. MIAA’s terminal fee integration scheme

Over a dozen OFW organizations and advocates closed ranks on Friday to call on Filipino migrant workers to show "a united front" against the government's move to integrate airport terminal fee to air tickets.

In a press conference held at the CBCP Building in Manila, 17 groups urged the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) to put on hold the implementation of International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC) scheme, which will start on February 1.

“Respect the law. That is all we ask,” the groups — collectively known as #NoTo550 Coalition — said in its position paper, citing the provision in the 19-year old Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995 exempting OFWs from paying travel tax and airport terminal fees.

In calling for action, the coalition urged OFWs around the world to:

- Write to or seek a dialogue with embassy officials to express their objections to the terminal fee integration;
- Use their Facebook accounts and other social media platforms to convey their objections using #Noto550 as a unifying hashtag;
- Turn their profile photos into black on February 1, the date of the IPSC implementation;
- Join, support or duplicate the coalition’s campaign against the IPSC in their respective areas by spreading the word about the MIAA’s new policy that would favor foreign airlines over the rights and welfare of OFWs.

Last-ditch efforts

The coalition said MIAA ignoring their call might led them to march to Mendiola. Nelson Ramirez of the United Filipino Seafarer (UFS), one of the 17 groups in the coalition, said they have already formally asked the city government's permission for a protest activity.

On Thursday, the coalition filed a motion with the Pasay City court asking it to decide on the motion for preliminary injunction they filed last year.

“Yung preliminary injunction, November pa 'yun naka-file. What we filed yesterday was a plea for the judge to already decide on the case that we have previously filed,” said Hannah Seneres of OFW Family party-list.

The injunction was filed before the expiration of the temporary restraining order issued by the Pasay RTC against the IPSC, the constitutionality of which is being questioned before the court.

Under the IPSC, OFWs who purchase their tickets online or abroad would have to pay the integrated terminal fee then line up upon their return to the country at any of the NAIA terminals to claim a refund.

"Honor the law"

According to coalition members, nowhere in the law was there any mention of preconditions or a refund system attached to the exemption.

They accused the MIAA of "modifying or amending the law via a mere memorandum circular."

"What is alarming is MIAA’s insistence to implement the terminal fee integration by February 1 despite an ongoing court case wherein the judge has yet to issue a decision,” the OFW groups said in a statement.

For her part, Susan Ople of the Blas Ople Policy Center appealed to MIAA, "Huwag namang pangunahan [yung korte] kasi parang pambabastos 'yun.”

“Lahat ng legal recourse, ginagawa po namin. Lahat ng paki-usap, ginagawa namin. Bakit naman kailangang sa Linggo itutuloy nila ito?” she added.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives are set to conduct their own investigation on the IPSC.

Seneres said they are "exploring" the possiblity of filing contempt charges against MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado if MIAA proceeds with the implementation of the IPSC.

Answer to airport congestion?

Various coalition members have also questioned MIAA's urgency to implement the IPSC, which is seen to minimize congestion in airports.

Federated Association of Manpower Exporters President Alfredo Palmeri said OFWs should not be blamed for congestion in airports as they follow a streamlined process.

"Nagkaroon po ng ocular inspection na pinamunuan ng [House] committee on overseas worker's affairs... Nakita po namin na wala pong airport congestion na ang dahilan ay OFW. Ang congestion po ay sa airline, sa security check,” he said.

However, Palmeri said migrants will definitely contribute to the overcrowding of airports if the MIAA insists on creating an ITF refund booth.

"Hindi na rin po kailangan ng terminal fee counter. Malinaw po 'yun. Pinahihirapan lang po yung OFW dahil nga dumaan na nga ho nai-screen na," he said.

The coalition also expressed concern over the unrefunded airport terminal fees paid beforehand by the OFWs who bought tickets online or overseas. —KBK, GMA News