Outcry: what to do with unclaimed PHP 700 million OFW terminal fee?

Photo: Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA)

By Corina Oliquino | FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA – Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and OFW advocate groups are urging for a more systematic and speedy process of claiming terminal fee refunds after the current Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) scheme caused delays and hassles to OFWs.

By law, OFWs (as well as athletes and pilgrims) are exempted from paying terminal fees or the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC). But in 2014, with the new IPSC scheme, the MIAA’s Memorandum Circular (MC) 8, Series of 2014, requires that the terminal fees will be paid along with the tickets upon booking online and abroad, the exempted OFWs then are required to queue in the designated MIAA booths in the airport designated for the IPSC refund.

But due to the long queues and the anxiety of missing their flight, many OFWs failed to get their reimbursement of PHP 550 terminal fee.

In a report by GMA 7’s 24 Oras, Michelle Paras, an OFW from Saudi Arabia who has yet to claim any of her terminal fee refunds at MIAA’s IPSC refund booth, said, “If you miss your flight, pity on you. The hard part is we work hard (to earn money and the terminal fee takes some of it). It’s like, you worked for it but in the end you don’t get the full amount you deserve.”

Moreover, MIAA spokesperson David de Castro assured the OFWs and public alike that the unclaimed funds were safely kept in MIAA’s account while there would be no deadline in the claiming of the terminal fees as well as to reinforce a new system to ease the current process.

“We are looking into a system that will automatically identify through online processes that you are an OFW and that you wouldn’t need to pay the terminal fee,” de Castro said.

According to Rappler, in 2015, both houses of the Congress passed resolutions directed to MIAA to temporarily lift the merging of terminal fees to airline tickets.

Another permanent injunction case filed by OFW advocate groups was also pending in the court.

“Continuing injustice”
Early this year through a forum with several OFW advocate groups, Susan “Toots” Ople of the Blas F. Ople Center urged the government as well as the MIAA to end the “relentless violation” of the Migrant Workers Act or the Republic Act 8042.

According to Manila Bulletin, Ople along with other advocates and leaders of OFWs particularly John Bertiz of ACTS OFWs party-list, urged for a special audit and a congressional investigation to the estimated PHP 1 billion collection of terminal fees.

“There is a continuing injustice going on when OFWs are forced to line up to refund the PHP 550 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.

“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 number 8 took effect? Millions of OFWs around the world deserve to know these answers,” Ople added.

In another story by the Business Mirror, last January the MIAA said that a Malacañang technical working group (TWG) is determining the total unclaimed terminal fee the country’s premier airport has. But in an estimate made by the recruitment sector, there could be roughly PHP 700 million from the unclaimed terminal fees due to the 1.3 million OFWs deployed last 2015.

“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.

De Castro also said that unclaimed terminal fees were set aside by the MIAA and OFWs can still ask for their refunds upon their arrival or departure.

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