THE Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will conduct a separate investigation to look into charges that a Philippine official in Saudi Arabia preyed on a number of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who sought help from the Philippine Embassy there.
The sexual harassment of some Filipinos is different from the sex- for-flight scandal also involving officials in Philippine embassies in the Middle East.
The Labor department created a panel to investigate the exploitation of migrant Filipino workers in embassies. The team is set to fly to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia this week.
Lawyer Leah Fortuna, the head of the panel, on Sunday said they will leave for Riyadh on Friday, June 28 to gather information and documents related to the scandal.
“The investigation will center on gathering information and documents relevant to the issue,” Fortuna said in a radio interview.
DOLE officials were able to talk to four OFWs who confirmed the sexual abuses. The four women were among the 44 distressed workers who recently came home from the Middle East.
Fortuna said the four women who talked to government officials claimed to have no knowledge of the sex-for-ticket scam but they complained of the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of an embassy official.
The four OFWs claimed to have been sexually harassed by an assistant labor officer. They were not offered plane tickets in exchange for sex.
Fortuna also clarified that based on the verification conducted by the panel, only one of the 44 OFWs stayed at the Resource Center or Bahay Kalinga under the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO).
“Yung (The) 43 ay galing lahat sa (OFWs came from the) deportation center at hindi sa (and not in) Resource Center,” she added.
Labor officials are set to talk with six other migrant workers this week to gather more information and find out if there are other sex victims.
Fortuna said that apart from gathering documents, the team will also interview people in Riyadh who could possibly give them leads or additional information about the allegations hurled against some embassy officials.
Malacañang on Sunday vowed to hold accountable the officials involved in the sex-for-flight racket or anyone who sexually abused or maltreated distressed Filipino workers abroad.
In a radio interview, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the matter is being handled by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“The Secretary of Foreign Affairs has already met with the victims who have come forward and we assure everybody that the investigations will be fair and that the investigations will take into consideration all the evidence or the testimonies that will be submitted to it,” Valte said. “And if, at the end of it, there is a finding that there is a culpability, then the persons who are found to be liable will be held so.”
Valte said separate investigations on the reported sexual abuses are being conducted by the DFA and DOLE.
“We must allow them to work at their pace but, as you can see, the DFA is giving much attention and much effort into this investigation,” she said. “And the DOLE kasi primarily, ‘yung mga POLO [Philippine Overseas Labor Office] natin are under the Department of Labor but when they are already posted, they are under the supervision of the ambassador at where they are posted,” she explained.
Valte said the government is ready to extend assistance to the victims.
The DFA had ordered consul-generals and ambassadors in the Middle East to come home to take part in the inquiry.
Meanwhile, the Kilusang Mayo Uno called on the government to implement an immediate, massive and free repatriation of stranded migrant Filipino workers in the Middle East.
Thousands of illegal Filipino workers sought refuge at the Philippine embassy in Riyadh when Saudi Arabia started a crack down on undocumented workers early this year. However, King Abdullah declared a three-month reprieve until July 3 to give time to illegals to correct their status.
“Migrant Filipinos in Saudi Arabia became more desperate to come home because of the crackdown. This condition has made them more vulnerable to abuse in the hands of sexual predators in the country’s Middle East consulates,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, KMU chairman.
“The Aquino government can end Filipinos’ desperation and reduce the sex-for-flight scheme’s victims by implementing an immediate, massive and free repatriation. The problem is the crackdown, not just the sex-for-flight scheme,” he added.
Reports say there are at least 26,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia who are scrambling to either fix their papers or go home.
Migrante-Saudi Arabia said at least 1,400 Filipinos are still at the Jeddah tent city, while 2,000 more Filipinos are outside the Philippine embassy in Riyadh.