Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday recalled the ambassadors and labor officials from the Philippine embassies in Jordan, Syria and Kuwait who were implicated in the sexual abuse and harassment of Filipina migrant workers.
In a press conference, del Rosario said he already knows the identity of one of the possible victims. He admitted that he found the sex charges “disconcerting.”
He said the heads of the embassies and the labor officials were ordered back to Manila as soon as possible so that the department can check the reports implicating them. It will also give them a chance to air their sides. “I have said that I will stay personally on top of these situations to make sure that investigations are transparent, comprehensive and undertaken as early and as expeditiously as possible,” said del Rosario, who met with Rep. Walden Bello at the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Bello claimed that a certain “Kim,” Mario Antonio and Blas Marquez from the Philippine missions in Syria, Jordan and Kuwait were demanding sexual favors from distressed Filipino workers and making them work as prostitutes there.
“Kim” is a member of the Foreign Affairs department’s augmentation team at the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, Syria. Antonio is the assistant labor attache in Jordan while Marquez is a local hire of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait.
Del Rosario said the DFA will work closely with Bello “and we made sure that we share with him exactly how we are approaching this very serious problem.”
During his meeting with the congressman, del Rosario found out that Bello’s source was a senior DFA official.
The secretary lamented that the official chose to reveal the problem to Bello.
“If you [senior official]are duly concerned about our dealing with this, you should have come to see me,” he said, adding that he doesn’t plan to confront that senior official, which he has already identified.
Even if no formal complaint has been filed, the secretary said the department will reach out to the victims. “We will be sourcing some of these people we think are the complainants. We at least know one name. We will try to access that person, so she can tell us [even]verbally what happened so we can input that into our investigation,” del Rosario said.
He pledged to provide security to the victims if they decide to come forward.
Aside from investigating the alleged sexual abuses, del Rosario said his office will also find out how the ambassadors in those posts handled the problem when it was brought to their attention.
The department will soon be forming a group to look into the incidents, the secretary said. A team may also be sent to the posts in Syria, Jordan and Kuwait to augment the investigation that will be conducted here.
Carmelita Dimzon, head of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), also said on Wednesday Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has started looking into the matter.
“Secretary Baldoz had already formed an investigating team for this purpose,” Baldoz told The Manila Times over the phone.
She said the task force has also been urging the victims of abuse, negligence or illegal recruitment committed by embassy officials to come out and file formal complaints.
She assured OFWs they would be given protection if they decide to come out and face their assailants.
Dimzon is scheduled to present today Antonio, one of the officials named by Bello.
Antonio has denied the allegations.
Vice President Jejomar Binay urged Filipino workers abroad to file complaints against embassy staff who have committed acts of abuse, negligence or illegal recruitment.
Binay, Presidential Adviser on overseas Filipino workers’ affairs (OFW), vowed his office will see to it that the reports will be given due action.
“I encourage those who know of any abuse or mistreatment inflicted on our OFWs to report these cases to me so my office could extend them the needed assistance,” he said.
At the Senate, Sen. Loren Legarda said officials who abused OFWs should be punished.
“This should not be tolerated, should be investigated, should be meted the full force of the law, if true,” Legarda stressed.
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, head of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs, said if the allegations were true, the three embassy officials implicated in the scandals should be charged and tried in the countries where they committed the crime. If proven guilty, he said it is likely they will be meted the death penalty.
An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Wednesday supported the government inquiry on the abuse of OFWs.
CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Migrant and Itinerant People (ECMI) Chairman Bishop Prescioso Cantillas said they are hoping the perpetrators of such exploitation will be punished immediately.
“It is good that our government agencies are taking steps to solve this evil scheme of our own government officials and we hope that those found guilty will really be made accountable,” the bishop said over Church-run Radio Veritas.
ECMI Executive Secretary Fr. Edwin Corros said the4 victims need “real justice”.
“Concerned government agencies should really investigate and the culprits should face the consequence of their deeds,” Corros said.
Last week, it was reported that a Filipino official in Kuwait demanded to have sex with an unidentified female household service worker (HSW) to facilitate her return to the country from the Kuwaiti Deportation Center.
Baldoz said the investigating team will be 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.
With Jefferson Antiporda And Johanna M. Sampan