Newspapers in the past few days are rife with allegations that certain Filipino consulate officials in the Middle East are forcing women to perform sex act in return for airline tickets back home.
The women had sought refuge in the Philippine embassies after escaping from their abusive Arab employers, only to be victimized anew, this time by their compatriots who were supposed to extend them protection. That, of course, makes good copy for the media.
But the man who blew up the whole thing, Akbayan Congressman Walden Bello, has yet to substantiate the allegations with solid evidence. And yet practically all newspapers have already run the story on the front page, some of them using it as headline material for days in a row.
DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario, no doubt in an attempt to appease the public, has recalled to the home office Assistant Labor Attaché to Jordan Mario Antonio, described by Mr. Bello as “one of the predators,” to shed light on the matter.
The word appease is used here because there is hysteria in the country, arising from what looks like a witch hunt launched with no other purpose than to gain publicity at the expense of some government officials.
For good measure, Mr. Bello also claimed that these consulate officials sell the distressed women for as much as $1,000 a night to Arab clients. He did not name who the officials were, but already tarred with the same brush were Ambassador to Jordan Olivia Palala and Charge d’ Affaires Nestor Padalhan and Raul Dado of Syria and Kuwait, respectively.
These officials have also been ordered to report back to the country and answer the charges.
How lightly does Mr. Bello throw accusations around!
To state the obvious, the charges are grave. For that reason alone, Mr. Bello should produce the complainants and submit their depositions detailing the circumstances of the crimes. It is thus a disappointment that all he can say is that the victims are reluctant to press charges for fear of retaliations.
We fully understand. Fear is the natural reaction of the oppressed, but you don’t destroy the life and reputation of people by mere insinuations.
Not only do individuals see their reputation in tatters. The entire Foreign Service institution suffers as well. A story in this issue of The Times reports that consulate officials from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore have also been recalled.
And yet most ambassadors and consulate officials have proven themselves exemplary individuals, devoted to the welfare of Filipinos abroad, whether they are there temporarily to earn a living or as immigrants and thus, have left the country of their birth for good.
The recall lends credence to the suspicion that exploitation of defenseless workers, especially women, is pervasive in all Philippine embassies and consulates. And that accusation is serious enough for us to keep a healthy skepticism, lest we play into the hands of unscrupulous politicians.
DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz informs us that nobody has come forward to validate the charges, and that bolsters our resolve to take the charges with a few tons of salt. Three of the supposed victims, when contacted by Labor, denied falling victims to the scheme.
By all means, we should urge an immediate probe of the whole sordid affair. However, we should not allow ourselves to be party to the equivalent of a lynch mob.