“Michelle” removed her veil to reveal her face, looked squarely at the man she had accused of sexually abusing her, and declared, “Naaalala mo pa ako, Mr. Villafuerte?” (Remember me, Mr. Villafuerte?)
Michelle and two other former Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia appeared before the Senate blue ribbon committee on Thursday to testify against Assistant Labor Attache Antonio Villafuerte posted in the Philippine embassy in Riyadh.
The committee had summoned Villafuerte and the women to the hearing on the sex-for-repatriation scandal in which Villafuerte is being implicated.
Michelle, “Annaliza” and “Angel” were fictitious names meant to hide the women’s identity. They also wore veils and dark glasses.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada asked the three women if they were willing to show their faces.
That was the time Michelle took off her veil.
She said she went to Riyadh last March 28 to work as a beautician. Instead of taking her to a beauty salon, her employer took her to his home and made her work as a househelp.
Michelle said she had to work for her employer’s family and relatives for more than eight hours a day.
She said she was not only being overworked, she was also made to eat stale food by as well.
Unable to bear the hardship anymore, Michelle escaped and sought refuge at the Philippine embassy in Riyadh.
She said she was referred to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) where she met Villafuerte, who is in charge of cases involving runaway OFWs.
She said Villafuerte introduced her to an Egyptian man whom she knew only as Ibrahim and who owns a recruitment agency. Villafuerte told her Ibrahim can provide her with the plane ticket back to the Philippines, as long as Ibrahim accompanies her.
Michelle said she rejected the offer.
She went to Villafuerte’s office on May 18 to follow up her repatriation request. As soon as she arrived, Villafuerte grabbed her and dragged her to a vacant office. There he began to make sexual advances at her, but she managed to escape.
At the hearing, Villafuerte denied the incident in his office, saying the office’s log book will show that Michelle was not around during the time she claimed it happened.
He said he left the POLO office and went to the Bahay Kalinga before proceeding to the Philippine embassy to attend the flag ceremony.
Angel told the Senate committee she went to POLO after she was raped by her employer. There she was interrogated by Villafuerte who asked her sexually pointed and demeaning questions.
Angel said she never expected that a labor official like Villafuerte, who is supposed to look after distressed OFWs, to be very lewd and insensitive.
“Tinanong ako, ni-rape ka ba talaga. Saan ka tinira, harap o likod.
Masarap ba. Malaki ba ari?” (He asked me if I was really raped. If I was I sodomized, if it was it pleasurable for me, if the man’s sexual organ was big), Angel told the panel.
Analiza said she too was verbally abused by Villafuerte.
She said that before she sought refuge at the Philippine embassy, the driver of the taxi she hired to take her to the embassy attempted to rape her. She pleaded with the driver and he left her alone.
Upon arriving at the embassy Angel was told to go to the POLO office and look for Villafuerte.
She stayed at the POLO office until evening and Villafuerte offered to take her to Bahay Kalinga where she could stay while waiting to be flown back to the Philippines.
Inside Villafuerte’s car, Analiza said, the labor official asked her if her employer tried to sexually molest her.
No, she answered. Villafuerte then asked her, “pwede bang ako na lang ang humipo dyan.” (Can I just fondle you?)
Villafuerte denied the claims of the three women, saying he suspects they just wanted to get back at him because he was not able to help them.
But Senators Teofisto Guingona 3rd and Senator Jinggoy Estrada said they are not buying Villafuerte’s explanation, and tend to believe the statements of the three women who put their dignity and honor on the line.
“It is clear that there is a need to replace the officials there (Riyadh).
There is also a need to change the current system because it is clear that there is no working system for looking after the welfare of OFWs,” Guingona said.