Thursday, October 2, 2014

Petition Paper

Position Paper Against the Integrated Passenger Service Charges (IPSC) Policy of the Manila International Airport Authority and the Department of Transportation and Communications

Submitted by:

Global Filipino Voices
Philippine Expat Bloggers Awards (PEBA)
United Filipino Seafarers
Philippine Migrants’ Rights Watch
Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute
Center for Migrant Advocacy
LBS Recruitment
Filipino Migrant Workers Group
Daughters of Charity
KAMPI
KAKAMMPI


Backgrounder:

            Civil society groups first learned about the IPSC policy last month during a meeting convened by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration with a select group of industry and NGO representatives for officials of the Manila International Airport Authority.

            During that meeting, several objections were raised by OFW advocates against the integration of the terminal fee in airline tickets. Primary among such objections was the enormous inconvenience that this policy will have on millions of overseas workers who, by law, are exempted from paying the PHP 550 terminal fee.

            A few weeks ago, MIAA convened another meeting at their offices to advise land-based and manning agencies including a handful of NGOs that the IPSC will take effect on October 1. They said that OFWs with locally purchased tickets would still be exempted from paying the said fees upon presentation of their overseas employment certificate (OEC) upon point of purchase. They, however, admitted that air tickets for OFWs purchased abroad or online by their employers or by themselves will now include the terminal fee, subject to refund upon presentation of required documents at a separate counter to be designated in our international airports.

            The OFW sector object to this wrongful interpretation of the law since it clearly states exemption from payment – a refund clearly indicates payment of said fees.





Our Position:

The OFW Sector objects to the imposition of terminal fees on the following grounds:

1.      Lack of direct consultations with the OFWs – in a meeting with MIAA officials, the Ople Center lamented the lack of direct consultations with OFWs on this new policy, and suggested that MIAA seek the help of Philippine Embassies and Consulates as well as Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) to gather the sentiments about the OFWs on this issue. MIAA thanked the Ople Center for its suggestion and promised to look into it. So far, no such consultations through our embassies took place. Note that the implementation of the IPSC has been set for October 1 or a few days from now. Isn’t one of the hallmarks of the President’s tuwid-na-daan policy is for government agencies to always consult their “bosses”? In street parlance and with due respect, Honorable Secretary, anyare?

2.      Clear violation of Section 35 of the Migrant Workers’ Act as amended by RA 10022: The law states: “Exemption from Travel Tax, Documentary Stamp and Airport Fee- All laws to the contrary notwithstanding, the migrant workers shall be exempt from the payment of travel tax and airport-fee upon proper showing of proof entitlement by the POEA.” Since the OFWs and/or their employers cannot show proof of entitlement by the POEA to airline companies and travel agencies based abroad through no fault of their own but due to technical difficulties as admitted by MIAA, then the application of the refund rule is discriminatory, unfair, and lopsided against the interests of affected OFWs. It also contravenes the very spirit of the law, which grants this benefit to our modern-day heroes in recognition of their contributions to Philippine society.

3.      Creation of a Trust Fund for non-refunded terminal fees – When questioned by OFW advocates on what MIAA intends to do with the non-refunded terminal fees from OFWs, its officials said that they have the flexibility to create a trust fund upon approval of the board for these non-refunded fees, with the intention to hold the monies until properly refunded to their rightful owners. What would be the legal basis for such a fund considering that the monies that MIAA will be advancing are intended for private individuals/recruitment agencies? What is the name of this special fund and has this been cleared with COA? Since these collections are done in contravention of an existing law, wouldn’t it be wise for the DOTC and MIAA to seek a legal opinion from the DoJ and guidance from the DoF despite their so-called “flexibilities”? The sector believes that this “Fund” can easily earn millions given the peculiarities of dealing with OFWs who are here only for a short time that they would rather spend with their families than in lining up to claim a refund for something that the law exempts them from paying in the first place.

4.       Notion that OFWs that pay for their tickets are in the minority – Aren’t laws designed precisely to protect the minority from infringement of rights? Besides, what would prevent a foreign employer from passing on the cost of the terminal fee to the Filipino worker considering that the government itself has set aside the provision on exemption from terminal fees for all OFWs?Clarita Cornejo, a caregiver based in Israel, said upon learning of this new scheme: “Here in Israel, our employers do not purchase our tickets. In my case as as caregiver for six years in Israel, I have to pay for my air tickets every time I go on a vacation to the Philippines. My employer will only shoulder the cost of my air ticket upon completion of my contract.” Mel Laynes from Dammam, Saudi Arabia explains: “Our employer gives us a fixed rate for airline tickets. When it is peak season, this means we, the workers, will have to advance the money for the terminal fee since this is in addition to the cost of tickets.”

5.       The cost is too minimal, and OFWs should contribute their share. –- The IPSC is in addition to other mandatory fees levied against an OFW: mandatory PhilHealth contributions, mandatory Pag-IBIG contributions, mandatory OWWA membership, mandatory POEA charges, aside from the usual medical tests and for household service workers, a mandatory TESDA training certificate. Josie Jose, a domestic worker in Doha, Qatar, points out: “Sa aminponamgakasambahay, isangarawna naming pinagpaguran yang PHP550 na ‘yan, halos 18-20 hours nakamingpagodniyan para lamangibayadsa terminal fee taposhindimonaipapa-refund.” Again, MIAA officials would likely point out that this is being remedied by the presence of refund counters in all international airports under its jurisdiction. However, MIAA officials should put themselves in the shoes of our OFWs who are often rushing against time to make full use of their vacation or emergency leaves, that lining up for a fee that they are not even supposed to pay is not merely a minor inconvenience.

6.       Won’t our OFWs also benefit from having our airports be at par with the rest of the world? – Our OFWs have seen the best and worst of airports given their journeys to various countries of destination. Yes, like all Filipinos, it is their dream to have a world-class airport, and they are amazed at how airports in other countries are efficiently run – no queues to use the ladies’ washrooms, trolley hubs closer to passenger ramps upon arrival, faster immigration queues, spacious and more comfortable lounge areas, walkalators for passengers’ convenience, world-class shopping and restaurant outlets, and free Wi-FI services throughout the airport complex. Removing a counter to pay terminal fees does not make for a world-class airport, especially when there will be a new queue specifically for OFWs that will be seen by everyone else. A queue that is actually discriminatory in nature unless the existing law is amended.

7.       MIAA officials claim that the IPSC issue is emotional for them, too. – In a meeting at the POEA with OFW advocates and land-based recruitment industry leaders, the MIAA assistant general manager countered that this issue is emotional for them as well, and not just for the OFWs. They stressed on how difficult it was to get the nod of airline companies for this new integration policy. They also pointed out how MIAA is losing millions in revenue because of the exemption provision for OFWs. Though quick to say that they respect and recognize the contributions of OFWs, comparing their situation as public officials to that of millions of OFWs is quite misguided, if not downright silly. Do they scrub toilets to be able to send money back home? Or, spend Christmases, anniversaries, New Years away from their loved ones? Legislators who sincerely believed that our OFWs are modern-day heroes authored this provision decades ago, to be exact, in 1995. For OFWs, taking away this benefit through a memorandum circular without benefit of consultations while citing how the IPSC is such an emotional issue to government, betrays the spirit of the law and the intention of our legislators. How sad that just because the airline companies have agreed to this new scheme, the OFWs are now under pressure to comply and give up on a benefit that they’ve been enjoying since 1995.

8.       Institutional reforms require laws, because well-intentioned officials will not always be around. – The Aquino administration ends its mandate on 2016, and as is often the case, a new administration appoints its own people at the helm of key government offices. While MIAA attests that the Trust Fund comprising non-refunded terminal fees will be used solely for that purpose, what would prevent a new set of officials from merging these funds with those under the General Appropriations thus diminishing accountability and transparency? This has happened in the past when a board resolution led to the merging of the OWWA Medicare funds with PhilHealth funds without transparency and accountability measures in place. For this to happen to the terminal fees of OFWs shall be doubly painful because they are precisely exempted from paying such fees in the first place.

Our appeal to the DOTC and MIAA is to suspend the implementation of the IPSC policy until such time that:

o   Proper, direct, and broad consultations are made with OFWs in various countries in collaboration with our embassies and consulates with full transparency through public documentation of the same;
o   All OFWs, regardless of where and how their airline tickets are purchased, would be able to obtain their exemptions upon showing proof of their status as OFWs such as presentation of the OEC upon point of purchase thus removing the need for refunds; and,
o   The law is amended to reflect the new policy of the DOTC and MIAA and to provide for the creation of a special fund as well as proper jurisdiction over the fund for regulatory and accounting purposes.


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