Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fast, simplified way of terminal fee refund for OFWs sought

The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) on Tuesday offered to share its database of OFWs to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) in order to expedite and simplify the refund of terminal fees.

"We have a standing offer to MIAA for a database sharing arrangement so that they can verify those who are buying tickets online if they are seeking for exemption, if they are legitimate OFWs," POEA Deputy Administrator Liberty Casco said duiring a hearing in the Senate on Tuesday.

The database would allow MIAA to separate online ticket sales from OFWs  and to possibly create a system for automatic refunds.

"It is very feasible to do it. In fact, we might even go so far as to refund it through an ATM. So it could be convenient for everybody, including the OFW and the MIAA itself," said Undersecretary Louis Casambre of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Casambre estimated that the database would cost P1 million to P10 million to implement and may take up to three months to develop.

When later asked on the possible source of funds for the database, Sen. Cynthia Villar, who presided over the hearing, told GMA News Online that any concerned government agency may back the project.

"Any government agency, I can work on that, to pay that. Even POEA or whoever. They're paying din, ng fees. I think they're amenable to paying. I think the Department of Labor is amenable to paying," she said.

MIAA General Manager Jose Honrado, who was present at the hearing, invited the DOST to join the technical working group (TWG) formed last August to review the integration of the terminal fee.

Under the law, OFWs are exempt from paying the P550 terminal fee. However, since February 1, the fee has been integrated in airline tickets, with the OFWs encouraged to seek for a refund. MIAA said the move aims to decongest airports and minimize human traffic.

Refunds

Honrado said from Feb. 1 to August 31 this year, they had refunded some P173,960,600 in terminal fees collected from OFWs.

He added that the amount came from 1,414,311 exempted passengers out of 4,090,922 paying passengers.

However, when Villar asked how many of these were from tickets bought online, Honrado said technical limitations prevented them from determining such information.

"Hindi namin malaman kung ilan pa ang hindi nagpa-refund. Nobody knows. In fact, hindi natin malalaman kung ilan ang bumili ng abroad at ilan ang bumili ng online... there is no technology to tell us whether ilan ang bumili na exempted online," he said.

This prompted Villar, chair of the Senate committee on government corporations and public services, to order Honrado to come up with a plan for a simplified process of giving refunds to OFWs.

"It's their money. It's not the money of the government. We have to be clear on that... It cannot (remain in a trust) forever. If they continue doing this, then we have to file legislation on the use of the money if not refunded," she said later in an interview.

MC No. 08

The integration of terminal fee in airline tickets, or the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC), is mandated under MIAA Memorandum Circular No. 8, which is being opposed by OFW groups.

OFW party-list Rep. Roy SeƱeres particularly criticized Honrado for his alleged inability to provide pertinent details regarding the implementation of the integrated terminal fee.

He also requested for the scrapping of the terminal fee integration as MIAA fixes the infrastructure and system for its implementation.

"Please consider the suspension of this memorandum circular. Hindi lang po kami ang umaapela sa 'yo kung hindi ang milyon-milyong mga kababayan namin," he said.

Both MIAA and OFW groups are waiting for the Pasay City court to rule on the motion for preliminary injunction filed by the latter last year against the implementation of the IPSC.

The court proceedings were delayed after the MIAA asked the judge to inhibit from the case.

"Yun po yung legal option na binigay sa amin ng OSG," Honrado said, referring to the Office of the Solicitor General, which represents the government in court cases.

Villar told GMA News Online later that neither the committee nor the OFW groups knew how the inhibition pushed through.

"OSG. Siguro malakas, ewan ko. 'Di ko naman maintindihan why i-inhibit pa. Sana pinag-decide na lang para wala nang problema," she said.

She added they were also not informed of the TWG created last August. —KBK, GMA News

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