AN assistant labor attaché stationed in Saudi Arabia will be the first Philippine diplomatic official to be investigated in connection with the sexual abuse and harassment of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who are awaiting repatriation.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Monday identified the official as Antonio Villafuerte, who was accused of attempting to have sex with an OFW named “Michelle.”
Villafuerte is also accused of pimping “Michelle” to an Egyptian friend.
Labor Undersecretary Danilo Cruz said Villafuerte has been ordered to immediately come home.
But Cruz said he was unaware if “Michelle” or any other OFW has filed a formal complaint against Villafuerte.
Last week, the DOLE fact-finding team expanded its probe to cover Saudi Arabia taking the cue from “Michelle’s” exposè.
Villafuerte has yet to come home, but the fact-finding team is already scheduled to leave for the Middle East this week to search for more information and to ferret out other possible victims.
On Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario confirmed at least one suspected offender has been identified but stopped short of naming him. Del Rosario said the official has been recalled and “will face investigation once he arrives.”
He said he was able to confirm “certain allegations” after he talked with three alleged victims on June 21.
“For the most part, however, until other victims and witnesses come forward, all other allegations including sex rings remain as allegations requiring further investigation,” he told reporters.
The allegations against the officials range from harassment to abuse of authority to molestation.
Del Rosario also ordered home the ambassadors to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore following a fact-finding investigation regarding the alleged sexual abuses in countries where the Philippines runs halfway houses for distressed Filipino migrant workers awaiting repatriation.
There are what are called Filipino Workers’ Resource Centers in the three countries
Del Rosario held consultations with the envoys from Syria, Jordan and Kuwait, as well as eight other countries in the Middle East and North Africa regarding the allegations.
“We need to take a good look [at these halfway houses]. We want to make it clear there should be no fraternization between embassy officials, including attached agencies,” and the OFWs taking refuge there, the secretary said.
The rules and regulations in the halfway houses must be “standardized,” del Rosario said.
Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs recalled 13 mission chiefs in the Middle East and North Africa to help investigate allegations of sexual harassment and abuse committed by embassy and labor officials in Syria, Jordan and Kuwait.
Diplomats from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon were also asked to come home.
The allegations were first hurled by Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello who accused a certain “Kim” from the Philippine augmentation team in Syria, Mario Antonio, assistant labor attache in Jordan, and Blas Marquez, a local hire of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait, of abusing and pimping Filipinas.
He said the three offered plane tickets to the Filipinas for their repatriation in exchange for sexual favors.
During his meeting with the heads of 13 Philippine missions over the weekend, del Rosario said he was able “to collate all possible information that I think will enable us to have justice for the victims and punish the guilty. We will be able to review all the policies and procedures governing our conduct in cases such as these.”
The heads of the missions have returned to their posts.
Del Rosario called on the victims of sexual abuse and harassment to come forward and file charges against the officials. Until then, he said, the department will not be able to get a clear picture of the allegations.
Graft, corruption charges
Katrina Legarda, a known women’s rights activist who recently conducted a gender sensitivity talk for Foreign Affairs official, earlier recommended the filing of graft and corruption charges against the alleged offenders.
Del Rosario said the department will consider Legarda’s recommendation.
Malacañang also vowed to give justice to the victims and punish the guilty.
“Whatever assistance that will be required to be given them, we will so provide,” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing also on Monday.
Lacierda said the DFA and DOLE are in the fact-finding phase of their probes.
”Based on the discussions yesterday and the allegations that were raised and all the results of the meeting yesterday, they have forwarded all these findings also to DOLE,” he said.
Lacierda said they will also check if the officials involved were appointed during the time of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
He assured the public that the investigation will be fair and everything will be based on evidence presented.
With report from Catherine S. Valente