Feature: Probe ordered on alleged sex scandal in Phl embassies in ME
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - June 22, 2013 - 11:30pm

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - They have been victimized twice: first by their abusive Arab employers and then by unscrupulous officials of Philippine embassies who are supposed to protect them.

The alleged sexual exploitation of distressed Filipino female workers, mostly household helpers, is now the subject of a wide- ranging investigation by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has ordered Philippine ambassadors to eight Middle Eastern countries to return to Manila for "consultations" on the alleged sexual abuses.  

The Philippine envoys to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon were summoned to shed light on the expose made Tuesday by Walden Bello, a member of the House of Representatives, about the so-called "sex for flight" that he said has been ongoing in some Philippine diplomatic missions.

"We need to have our ambassadors participate in the fact- finding initiatives that the DFA has started. We need to find ways to collectively encourage victims and witnesses to come forward and submit formal complaints and testimonies," DFA Spokesman Raul Hernandez said.  

Citing information from "unimpeachable sources" within the DFA itself, Bello accused at least three officials in the Jordan, Kuwait and Syria embassies of "prostituting or soliciting sexual favors" from female workers who have sought refuge at the embassies while awaiting repatriation to the Philippines.

These female workers have escaped from their employers after they were maltreated, harassed or even sexually abused.

Bello, who represents the party-list group Akbayan in the lower house of the parliament, warned that he would resign from his seat should the government fail to hold accountable labor officials Mario Antonio in Amman, Jordan, Blas Marquez in Kuwait, and a certain "Kim" in Damascus.

Among the three, only Antonio has come out to deny the allegations, blaming illegal recruiters and traffickers for what he described as black propaganda against him for cracking down on illegal recruiters and human traffickers.

Antonio, who had returned to Manila, appealed to the public on Thursday not to judge him and instead wait for the results of the investigations conducted by the DFA and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).  

John Leonard Monterona, coordinator of migrant rights group Migrante International, said embassy and labor officials would ask distressed Filipino women if they had money to pay for their flight home to the Philippines.

Mongterona said that because the women have lost their jobs or have run away from abusive employers, they do not have money to buy plane tickets for their trip back to the Philippines.

It is here that the embassy officials would talk to them and make an "indecent proposal" involving a "client", Monterona said.

During the night, the women would be fetched by the driver or a staffer of the embassy or labor official to be taken to the clients.

Monterona said the women were paid $130 to $260 for their services. Because some of them are desperate, they would even accept $26 to $78, he said.

Monterona said the information came from victims who had talked with Migrante officers in Saudi Arabia.

Reports of the sex scandal had prompted Malacanang, the seat of the Philippine government, to assure the public that concerned agencies would conduct a thorough investigation of the matter.

Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte has expressed confidence that the DFA and DOLE can get to the bottom of the scandal after a fair investigation.

Valte also called on alleged victims to come forward to execute an affidavit about his or her experience, adding that their rights would be protected.

A certain Michele (not her real name) has told labor officials in Manila that she was asked by an embassy official in Saudi Arabia to sleep in his house when she sought help from the embassy. She said she was offered to an Egyptian client but the Egyptian took pity on her and instead bought a ticket to Manila for her.  

Acting Senate President Jinggoy Estrada has threatened to withhold the budgets of the DFA and the DOLE if they failed to " resolve with dispatch" the alleged sexual exploitation of Filipino women.  

"I'm just about infuriated as everyone else that embassy and Philippine Overseas Labor Office authorities are making money by using our distressed overseas Filipino workers in this manner," Estrada said.  

Estrada, chairman of the Senate labor committee, challenged the government agencies concerned to dismantle this network that has been "preying on our distressed Filipina workers" and prosecute those responsible for these criminal acts.


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