2 more abused OFWs surface, to file raps

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ANOTHER labor official who was stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is facing abuse charges as two more distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFW) vowed to lodge formal complaints against him, according to an official of the group Migrante.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East and North Africa coordinator, said the two women claimed to have been sexually exploited by the labor official. He said they have already talked to the two women.

“We were able to convince them to file formal complaints against the labor official who allegedly exploited them,” Monterona told The Manila Times.

However, Monterona said the two OFWs would only divulge their ordeal once they were repatriated. They are presently in Jeddah waiting for a flight back to Manila.

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“We are hoping that the two would be included in the 20 OFWs who are scheduled to arrive this week,” he added.

Monterona said the two women were housed at the Bahay Kalinga or Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC) in Riyadh.

Because of the alleged abuses they received from the labor official, the two OFWs went to the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah to seek protection.

He said the two agreed to file formal complaints against the labor official if their safety and security is assured.

Monterona said the labor official is different from Labor Attachè Antonio Villafuerte, who was accused of attempting to have sex with an OFW named “Michelle.”

“This labor official served earlier than Villafuerte. He was in the post from the late quarter of 2011 to 2012,” Monterona added. He refused to identify the official.

On Tuesday, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said the recommendation of the fact-finding body formed to probe the “sex-for-flight” cases will be submitted before the end of July.

The investigating team headed by Leah Fortuna from the Office of the Secretary, with Ophelia Almenario from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and Rosemarie Duquez from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as members, will be flying to Kuwait on Friday to start the probe.

From Kuwait, they will directly fly to Riyadh to continue the investigation. Their last stop will be Jordan where they will stay until July 13.

Fortuna explained that their team’s main objective is to build up the case if it’s warranted.
“Data gathering at fact-finding kami which means both testimony and documentary evidence or papers will be gathered and collated. From there, kami ang mag evaluate kung ano yung ma-establish namin na findings,” she said.

For his part, DOLE Undersecretary Danilo Cruz said another panel will be responsible for the filing of appropriate charges against the accused.

“Depending sa findings nila, ibabato na ‘yan in a formal charge sa isang committee that would be created by the Secretary [Rosalinda Baldoz],” Cruz explained.

“What is confirmed is that someone testified. But as to the truth of the allegation, it will undergo the usual process. Nobody can, at this moment, say [it is]confirmed that someone is guilty or not,” he told reporters.

Cruz was referring to the sworn testimonies of OFWs “Michelle”, “Annalisa”, and “Angel” against Villafuerte.

Civil society
Meanwhile, a non-government organization (NGO) urged the Foreign Affairs and Labor departments to include civil society representatives in the current investigation into the illicit scheme.

Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said that a group of civil society leaders and OFW advocates will send a formal letter asking the two government departments to include at least 2 NGO representatives and a social worker from the Department of Social Works and Development (DSWD) to sit in the investigative panel.

They will also include in their letter the probe expansion by incorporating all forms of sexual exploitation such as sexual harassment by embassy personnel and also for the government to formulate a more gender-sensitive, professional and developmental approach to shelter management and OFW services.

Ople’s request drew the support of former OFW Jun Aguilar of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Group (FMWG), Loreto Soriano of LBS Recruitment Solutions, PEBA, the Philippine Migrant Rights’ Watch and Kabalikat ng mga OFWs.

“We believe that the ‘sex-for-flight’ allegations should lead to a wider probe into the kind of services and assistance that distressed overseas workers particularly the women receive from our embassies and consulate while they seek refuge in welfare centers,” Aguilar said.

Ople said more OFW victims will likely emerge when they see that NGOs are represented in the panel.

“If our request is declined then we would have to discuss amongst ourselves the possibility of having our own inquiry with the representatives of the Office of the Vice-President (OVP), OLE, DFA, DOJ, and DSWD present as observers. The NGO report will be submitted to the heads of these agencies and to the OVP and the Office of the President with an executive summary to be made available to members of media,” Ople, who is still in the United States as part of the US Department’s international visitors’ leadership, explained in a statement.

She also appealed to OFWs who have stayed or continue to stay in embassy premises and OWWA-run shelters to share their experiences with the staff of the Blas F. Ople Center.

“This is your chance to help others. Share what you know and we will do our best to document your experiences and convert all of these into a confidential report as basis for justice and reforms,” the former DOLE undersecretary said.

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