On September 23, the Department of Foreign Affairs on its Facebook page posted an article entitled “PH Embassy in Bangkok Assists 240 Filipino Repatriates from Thailand” which received some negative reactions and hostilities from some passengers who paid their ticket directly to the airline. A video maligning the group organizing the special chartered flights from Bangkok to Manila was also posted online.
To begin, Oxford Dictionary defines repatriation as “the return of someone to their own country”. Meanwhile, US Legal says “repatriation, in the employment context, refers to the process of bringing an expatriate back to the home country”.
For the record, PinoyThaiyo is the first Filipino community group that formally met with Embassy officials and pushed for assistance for Filipinos affected by COVID-19. During the meeting on March 28, Consul Michael Garcia assured that the Embassy can help in repatriating affected OFWs as part of the long term contingency plan since resources are limited and no one knows how long the crisis would last.
The first repatriation flight was on April 24 via Philippine AirAsia with 180 repatriates. After three weeks, the second repatriation pushed through with 180 adults and two children on May 14. The first two flights were both in Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport. Finally on June 29, the third and last batch of repatriation flew from Phuket with 183 Filipinos. All expenses were paid by the Philippine Government. The Philippine Embassy arranged all these flights with the budget approved by the government in Manila. Embassy officials even traveled to Phuket by land to ensure that they could make it in time, without having to experience possible flight delay or cancellation.
Special Chartered Flights
Even after the first two flights in Bangkok, there were at least 600 remaining requests for repatriation. However, the request for funds sent to Manila as early as May had not been approved yet by the government due to lack of funds as a result of COVID-19. Funds were running out and there was still thousands of OFWs in a more precarious situation in the Middle East that needed to be repatriated.
That was when the idea of organizing a Special Chartered Flight started. PinoyThaiyo, in partnership with Bangkok Vista Holiday Co., Ltd., wrote a letter to the Philippine Embassy requesting for assistance in arranging special chartered flights. The Philippine Embassy in Bangkok is the only authority that could endorse flight requests for any BKK-MNL / MNL-BKK chartered flights.
Chartered Flights are bit expensive compared to regular flights. The charterer pays for the entire flight regardless of the number of passengers. Bangkok Vista Holiday, a duly registered travel company (Association of Thai Travel Agents Registration No. 04272) also paid for taxes to the Thai government on every flight and ticket sold. There were four Special Chartered Flights (3 with AirAsia and 1 with PAL) because there were enough passengers. Special arrangement was made with the airline company in the last three flights to ensure that Filipinos who signed up for the planned chartered flight could fly home despite not getting the minimum number of passengers.
And just as we constantly put on our posts, the special chartered flight is under the repatriation category. Although Filipino returnees pay for their tickets, they all get full assistance from the government from Bangkok airport, upon arrival in Manila for their SWAB test, hotel accommodation, food and transportation back to their home provinces. Filipino tourists who are stranded are given the option of paying for their own or availing government funded facilities (depends on availability).
Please take note that there had been no “normal” or regular flights since the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) banned incoming international commercial flights. Only repatriation and special chartered flights carrying Thai repatriates and foreign nationals with COEs were allowed to enter Thailand from the Philippines.
Meanwhile, all outgoing flights from Bangkok to Manila were only special chartered flights and the same aircraft used by Thai repatriates in returning to Thailand. All other commercial flights were either cancelled or moved to a later date.
Special Flight with PAL on September 23
On September 23 at around 12:30 pm, Philippine Airlines PR 731 arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport carrying Thai repatriates and some foreign nationals including Filipinos with Certificate of Entry (organized by the Association of Filipinos in Thailand and PinoyThaiyo). In the afternoon, it flew 240 Filipinos back to the Philippines. Out of this number, 106 signed up for the special chartered flight arranged by Bangkok Vista Holiday and 15 others were paid by the Embassy through another travel company. The rest of the passengers either booked directly at PAL Bangkok office, online or through their travel agent. PAL tickets ranged from 8,450 THB to almost 12,000 THB (economy) depending on the seat and time of booking. Some passengers paid 367.7 USD (roughly 11,500 THB) for economy tickets booked on September 11 onwards. Meanwhile, Bangkok Vista Holiday sent its payment form to those who signed up on September 11-18 and charged 9,500 THB per person with the luggage allowance of 30kls check inn + 7kls hand carry. It also provided lunch prior to flight. Despite her very busy schedule, the owner and her team were also at the airport to check and assist passengers whenever needed. Philippine Embassy officials were also there to assist passengers from the check-in counter, Immigration and until the plane took off to ensure that everyone got to fly. This process was not done for regular and “normal” flights.
Who is Bangkok Vista Holiday Co., Ltd. (Charterer)
Bangkok Vista Holiday is a company founded and owned by Filipina businesswoman and community leader Mrs Zenaida Vannaying. Her family also owns three hotels in Pattaya and Bangkok among many other businesses. One of the hotels is an 18-storey 5-star luxury hotel rated as one of the best “staycation” hotels in Thailand. Another 5-star hotel (200+ rooms) also in Pattaya will be inaugurated next year. Mrs Vannaying is also behind two newly opened Filipino restaurants in Bangkok with her passion and commitment in uplifting the lives and image of the Filipino community in Thailand. She has been living in Bangkok for over 40 years.
Mrs Vannaying started the idea of chartering flights through her company to help stranded Filipinos in Thailand. With her solid reputation and financial capacity, all the first four chartered flights were all paid to the airlines without the assurance of having enough passengers to cover the costs. It is disappointing that because some people’s request for repatriation cannot be accommodated because of the government’s lack of funds, they have to blame and drag the reputation of private individuals who have been trying to help lessen the burden of the government.
Refund request by Rhey Keen and Edgar Eleguen
Earlier today there were calls for refund made by ex-prisoner Rhey Keen Ayala or Ernest Rey Basilio Salarza (see ThaiVisa, The Thaiger) and Edgar Eleguen of Partners for Change for Philippine Federalism Thailand. Both of them insisted that the flight should be free since it is under a repatriation flight. According to Eleguen, “Kung repatriation dapat free” and even went on questioning the Department of Foreign Affairs post on its official Facebook page and name dropping Senator Bong Go saying he would report this matter to the senator.
First, receipts are available upon request. The last flight was the 7th special flight organized by Bangkok Vista Holiday and receipts had already been issued to many passengers who requested it.
Second, since Eleguen is close to Senator Go and Malacanang as he has always been bannering, would it be better for the good doctor to personally request for financial assistance from the Philippine Government for Thailand-based OFWs? It would be to the benefit of everybody if he could request for the approval of the repatriation fund which had been on the table since May.
Lastly, Eleguen should refund the overpriced ASQ and air tickets he overcharged to all Filipinos who returned to Thailand before pointing his finger to others. Will Eleguen also report to Senator Go how he pretended to be a UN consul until he was busted in 2017?