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Drop terminal fees until NAIA is fixed

The airlines operating out of NAIA 1 want the terminal fees rolled back until air conditioning and other amenities are fixed. Makes sense but the proposal should go further: stop collecting the terminal fees until things are fixed and civilization restored in that terminal.

This suggestion to drop the fees in the meantime is not as outrageous as some bureaucrats may think. In fact, it is the only fair thing to do given decades of fee collection that didn’t all go into giving airlines and passengers value for money.

I don’t have the latest numbers but I recall that three years ago, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) had been collecting over P8 billion in terminal fees a year. Less than half of that had been used for the maintenance and upgrading of the terminals with the rest going into the general fund.

In other words, the terminal fee has become some kind of a tax rather than a fee for use of a facility. Early this year, Sen. Ralph Recto estimates a total annual collection of over P16.5 billion by three government agencies operating at the airport: Tieza (travel tax), CAAP and MIAA.

Other than the travel tax, the fees are supposed to be for services given to and facilities used by airlines and travelers. But most of the money end up in the general fund. This surreptitious taxation is immoral, at the very least.

But that is not happening at the airports alone. As I reported last week, the National Telecommunications Commission is also collecting about P5 billion in supervision fees that all go into the General Fund. They have a budget that covers employee costs and not much else. They even have to borrow test equipment from the telco companies they supervise.

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I realize this kind of practice had been going on for years. The guys in DOF will justify it on the grounds that people don’t pay enough taxes to cover the costs of running government. I don’t think the justification is acceptable.

Strictly speaking, this practice may even be illegal in the sense that it is a misappropriation of funds. When terminal fees are collected from each passenger, it is on the pretext of providing adequate airport services. When the money is turned over to the general fund, the real purpose for the collection is lost.

There is no reason for NAIA to be this badly managed. Major airports all over the world make money. Turn over the management of the terminals to the private sector, preferably to the companies that effectively run malls. That’s the only way we can redeem the national honor we lose every day in that poor excuse of an international airport.

Yogi Dominguez Zaragoza, a former Bb. Pilipinas, came back as a balikbayan last month. Her experience at NAIA when she went back home to Los Angeles last week was well described by my fellow columnist Babe Romualdez. Yogi was a contemporary of mine at UP Diliman in the late 60s and my current Facebook friend. Here is what she posted on my timeline reacting to her experience:

I think that the airport tax should be cancelled, all together. Passengers go through a disservice, when exiting the country.

The airline and airport staff was very nice, in spite of their working conditions day in and day out. What an inhuman imposition on these people who need their jobs to support their families, while the people in command seem so unconcerned and smug in their positions because of their affiliations to the top brasses.

When can we ever be proud, again, to say that we come from a respectable country? I remember the 50s and the 60s when the peso had a high exchange rate; when we had a good reputation in the world during the presidential reigns of Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos P. Garcia, and Diosdado Macapagal. Our country has retrogressed so far that it is among the top in various embarrassing global rankings. What can we do to take back the power from corrupt officials?

In any other country, the officials who miserably failed to do their jobs would have resigned in shame, but not here. Why? Here is an explanation PhilStar editor-in-chief Amy Pamintuan wrote in her column last Friday:

Those long lines of passengers fanning themselves as they swelter in the heat are proof that the MIAA failed to anticipate the enormous inconvenience to travelers using the nation’s principal gateway.

Bodet Honrado and his boss Transport Secretary Joseph Abaya have been under fire for the NAIA mess, but the betting is they are secure in their posts. Bodet is a member of the original Yellow Army of the Aquino clan while Abaya is a former military aide of Cory Aquino. And Abaya’s patron, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, can do no wrong in the eyes of his BFF, President Aquino.

That answers the question of many why P-Noy isn’t doing anything about NAIA despite the obvious mismanagement. If we also get power blackouts in Luzon and Visayas in addition to the one prevailing in Mindanao, P-Noy’s watch will be seen as a failure, the international credit upgrades notwithstanding.

P-Noy is sacrificing the Filipino people to keep his incompetent friends happy. Next time we amend our Constitution, we should make that a ground for impeachment.

Railroads

A Filipino transport expert e-mailed me his reaction to my column last Friday.

The two Senators are actually correct about DOTC’s plans for PNR. They actually want to KILL PNR, hence the lack of interest in renewing its corporate life.

That is the conclusion I arrived at, after reviewing the roadshow presentations of DOTC last March 2014 – that includes Railway Directions, so-called Integrated Luzon Railway, and MManila subway.

I got curious, because it appears different from the recently-completed Transport Roadmap for GCR which was accepted by the NEDA InfraCom. Cosette Canilao gave me a copy of their “4 Market Sounding Presentations”. It made me laugh, as well as sad as it is a kind of presentation I would be embarrassed to make.

From a non-expert, it would seem that DOTC has bold plans for railways. But for an old hand like me, who has seen PNR’s performance from 1973 to present, the plan is a mere piece of propaganda. To be kind, more like a baby who wants to run, before it learns how to walk.

In 1998, I was part of an ADB-funded study on the railway sector. At that time, we already proposed a re-structuring plan that includes a new charter for PNR. It was never taken seriously.

Hence, when I heard about the Bill in the Senate, I contacted my friends there to give me a copy. I was disappointed, because it merely extends the life of a “carcass” – to borrow a phrase from Edcel Lagman in his speech on PNR in 2004.

I have never seen a DOTC (since its creation, splitting from DPWH in 1979) at its dysfunctional best than it is now.

Telco pricing

And here is a reader comment on the column last week about NTC and the telcos.

Here’s an addendum to your column last Wednesday, May 7, about the raw deal we’ve been getting from our telcos, something to roust your acid reflux.

The question Philippine international travelers always have is: do I bring my mobile phone with me abroad and just pay through the roof for data services?

Someone I know recently went to Vietnam and learned that it was far far better to buy a Vietnamese prepaid SIM card.  For the equivalent cost of P200, she enjoyed unlimited text and a generous allowance for local calls in Vietnam, PLUS UNLIMITED (!!!!) Internet access for a month – in effect giving her unlimited international calls via Viber and other similar apps!

P200? Sheesh, here the floor cost would be around P999 a month for snail-paced Internet connectivity.  

I realize that comparing Philippine telcos with that of Vietnam is a case of comparing apples and oranges.  But doing the bottom line math simplifies the equation: someone is getting royally screwed on the pricing end and it certainly ain’t the Vietnamese consumer.

Cruise

A reader also wrote to report sighting a Cabinet member in the cruise ship Voyager of the Seas last April 20-26 Japan-Korea route. He had a large entourage of family members.

Nothing wrong with that, Mr. Reader! But a week away from work? So what! Nothing much happens in his department anyway. He might have seen how backward our systems are and be shamed into moving faster or resigning.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

 

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