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PHL govt joins scramble to bring home stranded Peya customers

22 December 2017

Several groups have thrown a lifteline to OFWs who failed to fly home due to Peya's fault

By The SUN staff

The Philippine government has joined the last-minute dash to bring home overseas Filipino workers who were unable to board their flights a few days before Christmas because their booking agent, Peya Travel, failed to get their tickets issued, despite charging them the full fare.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told media outlets in the Philippines earlier today that the government would pay for the air fare because OFWs “have a very special place in President (Rodrigo) Duterte’s hear.”

Cayetano said the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment would split the cost of the air tickets of affected OFWs.

He was also reported as saying that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had placed the Philippine Air Force on standby in case it needed to fly the workers out of Hong Kong.

The acting head of Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong, Roderico Atienza, confirmed to The SUN that they had received instructions about the plan to get the affected OFWs home free of charge.

“There is negotiation going on to bring them home,” Atienza said. “The government is footing the bill.”

He said the talks are between the government and Philippine Airlines, which is being asked if it could fly the passengers first, then bill the government later. As of this writing, however, no commitment has yet been secured from PAL.

Atienza was, however, quick to quell reports that a military aircraft, particularly a C130, would be sent to Hong Kong to ferry the distressed passengers.

“It’s not that easy to send a military aircraft to a foreign territory,” said Atienza. “We will need Beijing’s approval for it.”

He said getting the military involved was definitely not part of the instructions given them by the head office in Manila.

Getting PAL to fly home more stranded OFWs could, however, prove to be a problem. A staff member of the airline’s Hong Kong office said all the additional seats offered by PAL for its flights to Manila for Dec. 22 and 23 have been snapped up.

A total of about 200 seats were freed up for the affected passengers on PAL’s last flights out of Hong Kong for the two days, after the airline decided to send bigger aircraft to Hong Kong. These were sold for $3,030 each, roundtrip, to people who applied for them directly with PAL. Return ticket prices for these two dates were selling for no less than $5,000 before the Peya fiasco erupted.

Cathay Pacific Airways, which earlier announced the same strategy of using bigger aircraft for its flights to Manila on these two days and offered a “distress fare” of just $1,300 return to affected passenger, appears to have filled all available slots immediately.

A latecomer in the move to get the stranded OFWs home is Cebu Pacific Airways, which offered 50 free air tickets yesterday to the affected passengers on three Hong Kong to Manila flights: On Dec 25 at 7:30pm, Dec. 30 at 3:45pm, and Jan. 8 at 3:45pm.

The airline has asked the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to process the applications for the free air tickets from the affected passengers. As of 3pm today, 38 of the available tickets have already been taken, said Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre.

Labatt dela Torre also said OWWA has started accepting applications for the free PAL flights that might be arranged by the government. As of the close of office hours today, only 10 OFWs had stepped forward to take advantage of the promised free tickets.

Meanwhile, Atienza clarified that the Philippine Consulate has no legal personality to file a complaint with the police against Peya Travel amid reports Secretary Cayetano had instr\ucted them to charge the agency of fraud.

He said the most that the Consulate can do is to ask those victimized in the ticketing mess to fill up a form detailing their complaints against the agency, then refer these to the police.

However, he said the Consulate did send a letter early yesterday to the Commissioner of Police, asking for an investigation into the complaints against Peya, but has yet to get a reply.

Attached to the letter was a list of the names and contact numbers of 161 Filipinos who sought the Consulate's help in pursuing Peya for the alleged fraud.
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