LAST week, the leaders of migrant workers’ groups witnessed the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Manila International Airport Authority and 40 or more international airline executives. The agreement exempts overseas Filipino workers from paying the P550 airport terminal fee, whether the tickets were purchased in person or online. This makes the government compliant with the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 that specifically grants an exemption to OFWs from paying both the terminal fee and travel tax.
During the signing ceremony, Transportation Secretary Art Tugade described how President Duterte received the positive news. “His face practically glowed. He was so happy. He instructed Secretary Abella to make sure that the OFWs are informed about this. He truly loves our OFWs.”
Representatives from the OFW sector were teary-eyed while listening to the secretary’s speech. I only wished that the MIAA had invited more OFW groups, OFW families, and leaders of the recruitment industry to witness the event.
Though it took a bit longer than expected, we were still amazed that the revocation of former general manager Angel Honrado’s Memorandum Circular No. 8 happened at all. I remember attending court hearings in Pasay City two years ago, only to witness delay after delay, with the Office of the Solicitor General even asking for the judge to inhibit himself. I also remember joining a street march to Mendiola alongside my fellow advocates to stress our opposition to the unlawful collection of P550 from our OFWs.
By the end of April, over-the-counter purchases of tickets for and by OFWs shall be exempt from terminal fee payments. By end-July, tickets paid for by our OFWs abroad or online will also exclude the P550 fee. Of course, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III would have preferred an immediate cessation in the charging of the terminal fee. MIAA General Manager Ed Monreal, however, explained that the online system and collection protocols of the various international airlines need to be reconfigured, hence these timelines. This amazing race among government functionaries to assist our overseas workers is reflective of the tone of the Duterte presidency: ease the sufferings of our modern-day heroes.
A few days ago, I met with the parents of 28-year-old seafarer Abigail Gino Basas. Agapito, the OFW’s father, said that he went to Malacañang to report his son’s senseless and violent death at the hands of a gang of friends who were drinking in the same bar as Gino. The gang beat Gino to death a few meters from the bar because he had elbow contact with the main suspect.
Gino’s father went to the Presidential Action Center (PACE) and within minutes he was given a written endorsement addressed to General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa for the latter’s appropriate action. For a man seeking justice for his murdered son, that kind of prompt attention gave him a measure of assurance that government was indeed on his side. He intends to visit the PNP chief this week, and is hopeful that the presidential endorsement would yield positive results.
Lately, the Duterte presidency is under siege, with an impeachment complaint filed in the House of Representatives. Lobbyists are determined to hold him accountable before the bar of international public opinion, alarmed by his brash demeanor and manner of speech, and extra-judicial killings that have rightly disturbed the national conscience. However, one must not underestimate the power of the presidency, to right old wrongs, to build roads and bridges, to help the poor, and to fight injustice.
I have friends that love the President and those who absolutely cannot stand him. Political disagreements are the worst reasons for discarding friendships built over time. Bashing a complete stranger for his or her political beliefs is a pathetic way to make a living or lead a life. No one goes to the grave wishing he or she had posted more hurtful memes than anyone else.
My father served as an opposition lawmaker at various points in his political career. He had a cardinal rule. Ka Blas always said that while in the country, he was with the opposition but beyond our borders, he was Filipino first. I disagree with those persistently yanking at the skirts or pants of the international community to fight their war for them against the President. The power of the presidency is such that it will be able to withstand such international scrutiny, but at whose expense?
As songwriter Jose Mari Chan once said, can we just stop and talk awhile? The political allies of President Duterte can put in motion fair and open avenues for vivid and rigorous discussions with the different political parties. Perhaps it is time for a political and economic summit where all stripes and colors can participate and discuss about the things that could unify us: job creation, education, agrarian reform, peace and order as well as economic growth. We owe it to our flag and the younger generations to at least try.