MANILA, Philippines—The fact-finding body tasked by Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz to investigate the alleged sexual exploitation of distressed Filipino workers in the Middle East is expanding its probe following new allegations against another labor official in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview, Assistant Labor Secretary Rebecca Chato said that apart from Kuwait and Jordan, the investigating team would now include Saudi Arabia, particularly Riyadh, in the itinerary of their fact-finding mission.
This came after an overseas Filipino worker, identified only as “Michelle,” surfaced in the media and claimed to have been asked by a Philippine labor officer in Saudi Arabia to sleep with him at his home instead of at a temporary shelter put up by the embassy. She also claimed that she was offered to an Egyptian client, who instead of taking advantage of her, took pity on her and bought her a plane ticket to Manila.
“Michelle” went to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on Friday to seek assistance, according to OWWA head Carmelita Dimzon.
“She (“Michelle”) came to see me but I referred her to the investigating panel,” Dimzon said, adding that “Michelle,” who was accompanied by another OFW, sought assistance for self-employment, livelihood and scholarship for her children.
As of late Friday afternoon, the Department of Labor and Employment had yet to take an official statement from “Michelle” or any other complainant.
The alleged victims appeared reluctant to file formal complaints for fear of repercussions from the officials implicated in the sex scandal, according to DoLE.
But Chato said they were exerting all efforts to convince the victims to come forward and testify.
“We appeal to the victims to come out and help us help you. We will protect you and your identity,” she said.
A labor official who requested anonymity said they would continue with their investigation even without signed affidavits.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the department was doing everything to get to the bottom of the allegations.
Baldoz, who is in Milan together with Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala for the Agribusiness Investment Forum for the National Reintegration Program for OFWs, said the DOLE has an understanding with the Department of Foreign Affairs that the parallel investigation the two agencies are conducting would be thorough and complete.
“There is such a thing as due process, and we would like to abide by it…. But 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,” said Baldoz in a statement.
“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?” said Baldoz, as she appealed for cooperation so that the investigating team, whose main task involves gathering information and pertinent documents and to interview the concerned OFWs, can conclude its work fast.
The head of the Dole investigating panel, lawyer Leah Fortuna, has reported to Baldoz that the team has identified three of 48 alleged victims, but they said they had no personal knowledge of or information about the allegations. She said the investigating panel was looking for the remaining OFWs through the DOLE, POEA, and OWWA regional offices.
Baldoz also expressed appreciation over the concern of some members of Congress for the fast resolution of the matter, including Rep. Walden Bello and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, and she appealed to them to provide the DOLE with any information available to them to speed up the investigation.
“We are determined to get to the bottom of this issue as the DOLE does not condone any inappropriate act of any of its officials and personnel, most especially if it involves the performance of their official duties, particularly those mandated to protect our OFWs. Integrity and sincerity in public service are among the core values that we in the DOLE have sworn to uphold and abide by in everything we do,” she said.
Migrante International said in a statement that the “sex-for-ticket” issue was an exploitation borne out of the Aquino government’s failure to carry out the immediate repatriation of distressed OFWs and that the abuse of OFWs by embassy and consulate officials intensified during the crackdowns on undocumented OFWs in the Middle East.
“The bottom line here is abusive embassy and consulate officials are taking advantage of the desperation of OFWs. The further exploitation of the exploited. This is not an isolated matter that has nothing to do with the overall condition of stranded OFWs seeking immediate repatriation from the Philippine government in light of the crackdowns,” said Migrante International chair Garry Martinez.