Embassy execs linked to sex ring ordered back to Manila for probe
MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday said an investigation into the “sex-for-fly” operations involving three Philippine Embassy officials has started as he ordered the trio to come home immediately.
Aside from the three, the heads of the country’s embassies in Kuwait, Damascus and Aman, Jordan were ordered back to Manila to help in the probe.
Del Rosario lamented that sources from within his agency opted to bare details of alleged sexual exploitation of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to Akbayan Representative Walden Bello than telling it to him.
“I have an open door policy. These people who have come to him with information did not come to me,” he told reporters in a chance interview after his closed door meeting with the Akbayan lawmaker.
Del Rosario arrived at the House of Representatives at around 11 a.m. and met with Bello in a closed-door meeting.
The Akbayan lawmaker led the House overseas workers’ affairs panel in the 15th Congress.
Bello said three “predators” from Philippine overseas offices had been the subject of complaints from their co-workers.
He said two of the officials—one a ranking member of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Polo) in Amman, Jordan, and the other a local hire of Polo in Kuwait—were allegedly involved in running sex operations in Amman, Jordan, and Kuwait that use Filipino women staying at OFW shelters.
The third official, who he said was a member of the augmentation team of the DFA staff in the embassy in Damascus, Syria, allegedly engaged in sexual acts with OFWs staying at the embassy’s shelter for distressed workers.
Bello claimed this was apparently part of a scheme—dubbed by some as a “sex-for-fly” operation—where sexual favors were sought in exchange for helping an OFW get home to the Philippines.
One of the officials named by Bello—Polo-Jordan welfare officer Mario Antonio—denied running a prostitution ring using OFWs.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) Administrator Carmelita Dimzon said she talked with Antonio on Tuesday and “he was shocked.”
“He was denying it. But he said he is not afraid and is ready to face anybody,” Dimzon told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone. She said Antonio arrived in Manila on June 11 as his tour of duty had ended.
“Actually his tour of duty ended last year but he was appointed officer in charge labor attaché so he extended his stay there,” Dimzon added.
‘Sex for fly’ investigation starts
Investigation into the accusations of involvement in “sex for fly” operations of three Philippine Embassy officials has started, Del Rosario said.
“I will personally conduct this investigation,” he added.
He said that the heads of the country’s embassies in Kuwait, Damascus and Aman, Jordan have been directed to “come home immediately so that they can provide us with all the necessary information for us to be able to pursue this case.”
Those tagged in the cases of sexual exploitation in the Middle East have also been told to come back and “explain their side,” said the DFA chief.
“But this is not a recall,” he clarified, saying that they have ordered those involved to come back to the Philippines for the investigation.
The DFA was “grateful” that Bello exposed the sex ring. Bello said he received the information from sources in the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
“We have shared our information with him. Unfortunately our information is very limited. It is not as comprehensive as the good congressman’s who has apparently been getting information from many sources,” said Del Rosario.
The problem many saw with the allegations against the three Philippine Embassy officials was that there were no complaints to begin with but Del Rosario said that they were studying the victims’ “verbal complaints.”
“We have information that there have been some verbal complaints made. Although these are not in writing, we will see if we can act on the basis of these complaints,” assured the DFA secretary.
“If the report is true, then this can be considered as criminal (cases) – at the very least they are violations of our code of conduct and subject to disciplinary measures,” he said.
Bello’s information on the alleged involvement of Philippine Embassy’s officials on sexual exploitation of OFWs was “disconcerting,” said Del Rosario.
DFA information differed with Bello’s
Some of the information the DFA shared with the Akbayan lawmaker during roughly an hour’s worth of discussions in his office at the House of Representatives differed with those received by Bello, said Del Rosario.
“This is why we have to sort things out before we make judgments,” he said.
Bello said that the DFA did present new pieces of information but deemed these as insignificant.
“There were a number of new items brought up that complemented our investigation but these were not significant pieces of information,” he said.
Victims urged to come forward
In a separate interview, Bello urged victims of sexual exploitation abroad to come forward.
“We are encouraging the complainants to appear. If they are not comfortable appearing before the DFA or the DOLE then they can come to me here at the House (of Representatives) and we will provide them with protection,” said the lawmaker.
He said that he would file a resolution urging for a congressional inquiry on the cases in the 16th Congress since there was no assurance that he would continue to head the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs.
“I might not remain as the head of the committee but even so, I will file a resolution,” he said.
DFA, DOLE moving urgently
Bello said he was “glad” that Del Rosario was personally heading the investigation on the “sex for fly” cases.
“They did say that they will recommend immediate recall. As far as the DFA is concerned, I’m quite satisfied as I was promised that they will act immediately,” he said.
“I will be following the investigation each step of the way,” said Bello who hopes that the investigation to be concluded by the end of the week.
He hoped that the cases would not “drag on and by the time some sort of resolution is finished things have become very cloudy.”