The right of a few should not be violated for the convenience of many

Since February of 2015, our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been burdened by the integration of the airport terminal fees to the airline tickets. While previously, terminal fees were paid separately at the airport upon departure, the Department of Transportation implemented a system of integrating the airport fees into the payment of the airline tickets in order to mitigate airport congestion. This system is called the “International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC). While I admit that this scheme has somewhat shortened the process at the airport during departure – since a departing passenger no longer needs to line up separately to pay for the airport terminal fees, I cannot seem to appreciate this knowing that the rights of our OFWs are violated.

 

Under Section 35 of Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995, it is provided that, “all laws to the contrary notwithstanding, the migrant worker shall be exempt from the payment of travel tax and airport fee upon proper showing of proof of entitlement by the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency).”

 

The problem with the IPSC is that OFWs, particularly those who purchase their tickets online or abroad, previously did not have to pay for terminal fees but are now forced to pay for their terminal fees through the IPSC. To address this problem, the government, through Department of Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, instituted a refund scheme wherein these fees may be refunded at the airport.

 

A refund scheme is not a solution to the problem. I must stress that our OFWs are exempt from paying the terminal fee as a right. It is not a privilege. Conditions may not be imposed for them to be exempt from payment of the terminal fee. If airport congestion is the problem, it must not be solved at the expense of the rights of our OFWs.

 

Other problems arise out of this arrangement too. First, most of our OFWs affected by the IPSC are unaware of this refund scheme and are not able to refund the PhP550 that they paid when they bought their ticket online or abroad. Second, the reason behind the exemption from payment of terminal fees is rather defeated as they have to be inconvenienced and delayed at the airport. As such, they may be forced to just forego lining up for their refund. Why force our OFWs to line up to claim the refund for the money that they should not have been charged with in the first place? Third, under the IPSC scheme, it is unclear what will happen to the non-refunded terminal fees.

 

The Department of Transportation argues that the implementation of the IPSC is intended to decongest airport terminals. Besides, it adds, only 200, 000 OFWs would be affected by the new policy. The argument is unsound. The rights of a few should never be violated for the convenience of many. Policies are either just or unjust. There are no in-betweens. In this case, it is clearly unjust to the OFWs. Whether only 5 OFWs are affected, or two, or even just one, we are still talking about a right whose violation may not just be ignored simply because only a few will be affected.

 

There must be a better way of solving the problem. There could be an option for online purchases or tickets purchased abroad to forgo payment of the terminal fees on the ground that they are OFWs, then proof of this can be presented at the airport. If they are unable to present proof that they are an OFW then they can be charged the terminal fee at the airport. This is just an example. Other arrangements and systems can be thought up. The point is, the rights of the OFWs need not be sacrificed.