AFTER enduring the abuses of their employers, many female overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in the Middle East also suffered at the hands of Philippine Embassy officials who either raped them or turned them into prostitutes, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.
Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan Party-list said at least three embassy officials should be sacked and recalled to the country immediately to face prosecution.
The lawmaker, citing unimpeachable sources from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), identified these Embassy officials as a certain “Kim”, Mario Antonio and Blas Marquez.
Kim, a member of the Augmentation Team of the DFA stationed in the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, Syria, was reportedly caught by several witnesses having sex with a female OFW at the Embassy shelter for distressed workers.
Bello said Kim also had sexual relationships with four distressed OFWs in the past.
$1,000 per night
The cases of Antonio and Marquez were just as worse.
Antonio, who serves as the Assistant Labor Attache of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Amman, Jordan, turned the distressed OFWs in the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC) into prostitutes and sold them to wealthy Palestinian men.
A one-night stand with a Filipina costs at least $1,000 dollars or P43,000.
On the other hand, Marquez, a local hire of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuwait, also turned the FWRC in Kuwait into a prostitution center just like Antonio.
“These criminals parading as officials must be stripped of their positions, recalled to the Philippines and prosecuted. Sexual abuse on our womenfolk perpetrated by their foreign employers is an awful crime, but what is more awful is the exploitation by their own compatriots in a strange land,” Bello said in a press conference.
“It becomes even more terrible when they are sexually exploited by government officials who are supposed to protect them,” he stressed.
Also on Tuesday, Malacañang said it expects the appropriate agencies to act on the allegations against the three officials.
Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the government, through the Labor department, immediately created a team that would investigate the allegations.
She said the DFA has directed the Head of the Embassy in Kuwait to act on reports that “sex-for-repatriation” scheme.
“The DFA is already looking into this. The Head of the Embassy in Kuwait has been instructed to act on this,” the Palace official said.
However, she said that no formal sexual harassment complaint has been filed yet.
”To this date, we have not received any formal complaint from the alleged victims,” Valte said, as she called on victims to file complaints against those involved.
”We are encouraging those with information or those who have been victimized by these alleged practices to come forward and to file complaints because the DFA is more than willing to act on them,” Valte assured.
According to Bello, the three embassy officials are sitting pretty in their respective posts despite repeated offenses.
For engaging in sexual relationships with distressed OFWs, the man nicknamed only as Kim was only ordered by the Philippine Embassy in Damascus to attend modules on Gender Sensitivity and Assistance to Nationals of the next Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar, as well as secure certification from the Foreign Service Institute that he was able to complete these modules before he will be considered for posting.
“We cannot understand the reason for such kid gloves treatment of an individual who has a record of sexually exploiting OFWs. The authorities in Manila already want him sacked and recalled, but their hands are tied since a course of action must be recommended by the head of the post,” Bello said.
The Philippine Embassy in Damascus is headed by Ambassador Nestor Padalhin.
Antonio is also having a field day as a prostitution ring head in Jordan, considering that he remains glued to his post even if his activities already prompted the government of Jordan to declare him persona non-grata. Antonio, Bello said, has been involved in prostitution even in his previous postings in Beirut, Lebanon and in Tokyo, Japan.
Just as baffling is the case of Marquez, who is clinging to his post even if the diplomats who had knowledge about his illegal activities—former Ambassador Shulan Primavera and Assistant Labor Attache Ofelia De Castro—have long been relieved and recalled to the Philippines.
In addition, the Commission on Audit also found Marquez shortchanging the OFWs by at least P330,000 a year since 1997 by using a higher exchange rate in issuing Overseas Employment Certificates.
“Our sources have asked out to expose the criminals in their ranks because their acts are giving their agencies a bad name, and they can no longer tolerate the inaction of their superiors. We cannot afford to have officials like these people,” Bello pointed out.
Bello uged Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz to immediately rid their respective agencies of such officials as soon as possible.
“We must dismiss them from government service and prosecute them because this is what justice demands. We must restore the faith of our OFWs in our government’s ability to protect them because who knows? This could only be the tip of the iceberg,” Bello added.
In response to Bello’s statement, the DFA urged the alleged victims of Philippine embassy officials in the Middle East to file formal complaints.
Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, issued the statement as he announced that the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait is currently looking into the news reports about “sex-for-fly” incidents there involving labor officials.
According to news reports, labor officials at the embassy demand sexual favors in return for airline tickets so distressed Filipinos there before they can go back home to Manila.
“We would like to ask the alleged victims to come forward and file a formal complaint against the perpetrators,” Hernandez said.
Another DFA official, who refused to be identified, said the agency will find it to hard to start investigations and hearings regarding the alleged crimes if the victims would not come forward and file the complaints.
The same source also said the Foreign Affairs department is willing to look into these alleged incidents of “abuse of power” as long as there are evidences and proper complaints are filed.
The source added that unless complaints against these officials are formalized, the department would be hard-pressed to impose administrative sanctions on them.