The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Friday said the committee looking into reports of Filipina migrant workers being sexually exploited by Philippine diplomatic officials in the Middle East is expanding its inquiry to include Saudi Arabia.
The probe originally covered only Kuwait, Jordan and Syria, but Undersecretary for Labor Relations and Social Dialogue Rebecca Chato said she has received reports of a similar incident in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital.
“We will be expanding (the investigation) but we will do it one at a time so as not to crowd out the investigation,” Chato said.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz created the probe panel composed of Leah Fortuna of the Office of the Labor Secretary as chairperson, and Ophelia Almenario of the OWWA, and Rosemarie Duquez of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as members.
Implicated in the sexual exploitation of are former Philippine Labor Attaché to Jordan Mario Antonio, Kuwait-based welfare officer Blas Marquez, and a certain “Kim” from Syria.
Chato said Undersecretary for Employment and Manpower Development Danilo Cruz will advise all 15 labor attaches in the Middle East to keep an sharp eye out for reports of Filipino workers being sexually exploited.
Baldoz, however, said the inquiry cannot proceed unless the victims reveal themselves.
“It is our people who are being accused in the media, but isn’t it ironic that it is us who are looking out for complainants?” she said. “Until now, there has not been a single person who had filed a formal complaint against the DOLE personnel named in the allegations that continues to play out in the media.” Chato assured the victims, “We will protect you and your identity. We will safeguard you against the people you will name.”
Baldoz appealed to the other agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, the office of Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who are conducting their own investigations to coordinate with the DOLE.
On Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters he will be meeting this weekend with the 11 ambassadors from Philippine missions in the Middle East who were asked to come home and help in the DFA’s own probe.
Del Rosario said the ambassadors will return to their posts by Sunday because he doesn’t want their missions compromised by their absence.
On Wednesday, del Rosario recalled Charge d’Affaires Nestor Padalhan of Syria, Ambassador Olivia Palala of Jordan and Charge d’Affaires Raul Dado of Kuwait, as well as the three officials implicated in the reports.
The envoys from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon were also asked to come home.
The DFA will also determine if the envoys were amiss in investigating complaints if sexual abuse filed by Filipino workers.
Last Tuesday, Bello named a certain “Kim,” Mario Antonio and Blas Marquez from the Philippine missions in Syria, Jordan and Kuwait as having demanded sexual favors from distressed Filipino workers.
“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.
On Friday, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte assured the alleged victims of sexual exploitation that the government investigation will be fair and transparent. The government, Valte said, is willing to get the testimony of certain “Michelle,” an overseas Filipino worker who was interviewed by several radio stations and who claimed that she too was sexually harassed by a Filipino embassy official.
”The DFA is also open and is waiting for her to contact them; and is also reaching out to her to get her formal statement so it can be put down as a formal complaint,” she said.
”I understand that this alleged victim surfaced and she was not part of the allegations that Bello raised. She seemed to have come from another area, but, nonetheless, will be looked into,” Valte said.
Valte said the President has no plan to form a presidential investigating committee since DOLE and DFA have already launched separate inquiries.
She the two agencies agreed to share whatever information they would gather.
Vice President Jejomar Binay on Friday called for the relief of embassy officials who were allegedly involved in sexually exploiting distressed female OFWs in the Middle East.
Binay, who is also the Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns, said those who were accused should voluntarily take a leave.
If not, they should be suspended, he said.
Dimzon confirmed that Antonio is still holding office because they are waiting for a recommendation from the DOLE investigating panel.
Dimzon said the accusations against Antonio have no basis because no one has filed a formal complaint against him.
With Bernice Camille V. Bauzon Catherine S. Valente and Ritchie A. Horario