PNS — AN ongoing row between the airlines and Customs staff at the airport took a turn for the worse over the weekend after international airline operators said they will stop providing Customs declaration forms to arriving passengers next year.
The Airline Operating Council told the Bureau of Customs on Dec. 2 that it will stop printing and distributing the Customs arrival cards starting Jan. 1 and turn that responsibility over to the bureau.
For the last 10 years, the council has shouldered the expense of printing and distributing the cards with help from Smart Communications as a sponsor. But Smart had terminated its sponsorship, and as a result the council would follow suit, group chairman Maria Lourdes San Juan Reyes.
The arrival forms are the latest wrinkle in the deteriorating relations between the airlines and Customs staff, who have been threatening to stop working after regular hours because of their unpaid overtime.
For decades, the airlines had been paying airport staff overtime and allowances, but they recently stopped because it was the government’s job to pay its employees.
A Court of Appeals decision found for the airlines, but in response some Customs employees started refusing to process arriving passengers after midnight, forcing them to wait for almost an hour inside the plane.
Some Customs booths are often undermanned, forcing arriving passengers to form a long line waiting to be cleared. Airline operators say the intent is to make travelers hate the airlines.
Earlier, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim called on the Finance Department and the Bureau of Customs to resolve the problem to prevent another international embarrassment for the country.
The country uses about 22 million Customs declaration forms a year, with Philippine Airlines being the biggest user of about 5 million followed by Cebu Pacific with 3 million.
The balance is taken up by the 30-member Airline Operating Council. The group says each arrival card costs about a peso, and that Smart used to defray most of it.