MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Sunday vowed to bring to justice labor officers in the Middle East who would be found liable for sexually exploiting distressed female migrant workers.
The Palace promised a thorough investigation of allegations that labor officers at Philippine embassies in Kuwait, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia pimped women staying in the welfare shelters in those missions or demanded sex from them in exchange for repatriation.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment are investigating the allegations, with three women who had gone through abuse at the hands of a labor officer in the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as the first complainants.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has ordered home diplomats and labor officers from the embassies in the four Middle East countries for questioning.
President Aquino has kept quiet since the scandal broke out last week, leaving the talking to Del Rosario and officials from the labor department and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.
But his deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, speaking Sunday on state-run radio dzRB, said those who would be found liable after the investigation would be held accountable.
Strategic Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said the government would take action according to the outcome of the investigation.
“We are undertaking an investigation and have promised to take action based on the findings. This is the correct course [of action] to take,” Carandang said in a text message. “We must follow a process to determine the truth before we can take appropriate action.”
The scandal broke out on Tuesday when Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, head of the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs, disclosed the sexual exploitation of distressed female migrant workers by labor officers in the Philippine missions in Kuwait, Syria and Jordan.
The allegations were so serious Del Rosario decided to see Bello for discussions and then ordered home the heads of the Philippine missions and the labor officers in the three countries for investigation.
Del Rosario formed a fact-finding body to conduct the investigation and called home the Philippine ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon for “consultations.”
On Friday, Del Rosario and other officials from the DFA and the labor department met with the three women from Saudi Arabia and listened to their story.
The women accused a labor officer in Riyadh of sexually molesting them, and of pimping them to “clients” to make money for their plane tickets home.
Their statements tended to corroborate Bello’s account of the sexual exploitation of women staying in the welfare shelters while waiting for their turns to be repatriated.
According to the DFA, the costs of repatriating workers are shouldered by the government and cannot be used as leverage by embassy officials in asking for favors from them.
It is not clear, however, whether distressed migrant workers are aware of the repatriation program.
The three complainants appeared to have been under the impression that they had to pay for their flight home.
Having lost their jobs, they had no money and were taken advantage of by the Philippine labor officer in Riyadh.
The DFA and the labor department have not disclosed the labor officer’s identity.
Del Rosario’s consultations with the heads of missions on Friday and Saturday produced recommendations that included the termination of local employees in the embassies involved and the recall of other personnel to face investigation, the DFA said.
The recommendations included punishing the offenders and introducing corrective measures to prevent recurrence of the abuses in the missions, the department said.
Originally posted: 6:46 pm | Sunday, June 23rd, 2013