By EMMIE V. ABADILLA
To guard against profiteering from restrictions in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) yesterday issued a notice forbidding port service providers from imposing additional port charges and fees, including hazard fees.
PPA issued the notice to "prevent confusion in port operations", following an incident in Lucena, Quezon, where the Quezon Harbor Pilots Association Inc. invoked the Extended Community Quarantine (ECQ) declaration as an excuse to charge an additional pilot health hazard fee of ₱60,000 for every vessel they will be assisting in the province's ports.
"This was not authorized by the PPA," the agency underscored in yesterday's official advisory.
"The PPA has not granted any increase and additional port fees, cargo handling, pilotage, terminal and miscellaneous charges, including hazard fees, in its official port tariff, after the imposition of the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine," clearly stated the Memorandum signed by PPA General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago.
Likewise, the agency has not permitted any authority to impose additional charge or fee to any terminal or cargo handling operators, pilots and pilotage associations, private ports, port managers, port service providers and other port stakeholders.
Earlier, in their letter dated March 23, 2020, the pilots’ association claimed they are considered as “front liners” (front line personnel) in the port’s operation inasmuch as pilots are exposed to the threat of COVID-19.
The pilots’ association maintained that their collection of the additional pilots’ health hazard fee follows President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's announcement that all frontline personnel are entitled to receive hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the PPA reiterated that neither its office nor its Board has granted the authority to impose additional charges or fees to any terminal operator, cargo handling operator, pilots and pilots’ associations, private port operators, and port service providers, including the Quezon Harbor Pilots Associa-tion.
PPA General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago pointed out that while the agency values the service given by workers at the country’s various ports amid the pandemic threat, the hazard pay of pilots should not be shouldered by those who are also being affected by COVID-19 and by the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.
“We understand that lives are at stake when we continue to carry out our duties during these tough times. But they should remember that those from whom they are asking a hefty fee are also victims of this global crisis," he stressed.
PPA likewise directed all port managers to monitor the strict compliance of the issued notice and immediately stop the collection of unauthorized additional fees. All port stakeholders are also instructed to report any violation of the order.
Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade lauded the move of the PPA, and expressed dismay over people who take advantage of the COVID-19 situation to earn more, at the expense of others.