Dear Secretary Tugade

FRIENDS assure me that you are a hard worker. Your integrity is beyond question, they say. I am glad to hear this. Any honest, hardworking man would appreciate the concerns of our overseas workers. Let me raise one particular concern of theirs, through this open letter.

Secretary Art, millions of overseas Filipino workers have always enjoyed an exemption granted under Republic Act No. 8042, which was later amended by Republic Act No. 10022. That exemption pertains to the payment of airport terminal fees now known as the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC), and the travel tax. For 19 years, the law excluding OFWs from paying these fees was strictly observed.

On Feb. 1, 2014, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), under the disastrous leadership of General Manager Jose Angel Honrado, started its unlawful collection of airport terminal fees from our OFWs. Every airline ticket now contained the 550-peso terminal fee.

Mr. Secretary, our OFWs visiting the country have been paying P550 to an agency that doesn’t even have a system in place to account for such OFW-driven fees, only to be asked to line up before they return to their place of work to retrieve the P550. Ask them, please, Mr. Secretary, how much have been collected from OFWs since the time the IPSC began. Then ask the officials of MIAA how much in non-refunded OFW payments does MIAA have in its possession. They don’t know. No one knows.

Will you allow this scheme to continue? You certainly have sufficient basis to call for a suspension. Look at the records. Twenty senators signed a resolution calling for the IPSC to be suspended. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment have issued separate position papers stating that the IPSC violates existing laws protecting the rights and welfare of our modern-day heroes.

Please, Mr. Secretary, dwell on this. Our government is paying a 3.5-percent service fee to international airlines to serve as the collecting agent for airport terminal fees. And then, MIAA keeps collecting from overseas workers a fee that they are exempted from paying. What kind of agreement is that? How can that even be rational?

Sagana ang airlines, kawawa ang mga OFWs
MIAA said that by removing the terminal fee counter it would be easing airport congestion.

There is a way to address airport congestion. Build a bigger airport. Or look for an IT solution so that OFWs can have the option of not paying the airport terminal fees. Besides, airport congestion is not just because of the terminal fee counter; it is a result of bountiful errors, none of which is the fault of an OFW. They couldn’t even maintain a generator, and yet MIAA is so fixated on the terminal fee counter. What about the long queues that OFWs have to endure just to refund the amount of P550 that was illegally collected in the first place?

Mr. Secretary, our OFWs came out to vote solidly in favor of change. As Secretary of Transportation, please be the change that we need. Revoke the memorandum circular that was selfishly and incompetently enforced by MIAA. We have no problem with terminal fee integration as long as the exemption granted by law to our OFWs is honored.

Follow the law. That is all we ask. Godspeed, Mr. Secretary!


Manila Times Link: Policy Wink

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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