Palace promises fair probe into allegations of sexual exploitationBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Whether the alleged sexual exploitation of distressed Filipino workers in the Middle East by Philippine embassy personnel has been going on for years is something that still has to be determined, a Malacañang Palace aide said Friday even as she assured workers and the public of a “fair’’ investigation.
Undersecretary Abigail Valte, one of President Benigno Aquino’s spokespersons, said that if there had been stories before about such a racket, these were not confirmed because no victim had come forward to execute an affidavit about his or her experience.
Valte, however, expressed confidence that this would come out in the parallel investigations being undertaken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Labor and Employment.
“That will be seen in the investigation. And if there are stories like this, I’d just like to mention that both departments are open to receive complaints,” she said at a Malacañang briefing.
In fact, the DFA was waiting for another possible victim, who identified herself only as Michelle, to surface and contact them, Valte said.
“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.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has formed a fact-finding body to look into the alleged exploitation of distressed Filipino workers at the hands of embassy and labor officials in Jordan, Kuwait and Syria.
Akbayan partylist Representative Walden Bello accused at least three officials in the Philippine embassies in these countries of prostituting or soliciting sexual favors from female workers staying at the shelters and awaiting repatriation to Manila.
Labor officer Mario 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.
To cover more ground in the investigation, Del Rosario has summoned back home ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon “for consultation.’’
Given that some victims are apprehensive about the implications of coming out, Valte said that the DFA and the DOLE would look into all angles.
“We’d like to assure that this kind of investigation will be fair. Don’t be afraid. I understand that some of you have apprehensions, but we assure you that investigations like this, especially concerning our OFWs, would be given appropriate attention, and you will be given fair treatment by our colleagues,” she said.
Valte said she has yet to take up Bello’s proposal that Malacañang mount an independent inquiry.
“We’ll raise that to him (Aquino)— a presidential task force of sorts, I suppose— but at this point, both the Department of Labor and the Department of Foreign Affairs are conducting separate investigations,’’ she said.
Besides, both the DFA and the DOLE committed to share updates of their separate investigation with the Office of the President, Valte said.
“Every time we deploy a new ambassador or envoy to a foreign country, the President would always remind him or her to focus on the welfare of the OFWs. ‘We’re not going to a party, and we should be focused on the welfare of our countrymen’,” she said in reply to a question on whether Aquino has given instructions to both departments.