July is sex-abuse probers’ target

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03:33 AM June 26th, 2013

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By: Tina G. Santos, June 26th, 2013 03:33 AM

MANILA, Philippines—The team tasked by the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) to look into the alleged sexual exploitation of distressed migrant workers by Philippine labor officials in the Middle East is expected to come out with the results of its fact-finding investigation in the next few weeks.

“We may already have concrete results before the end of July,” said lawyer Leah Fortuna, head of the investigating team.

Fortuna said they already have the sworn testimonies of the three alleged victims of Riyadh-based assistant labor attache Antonio Villafuerte. She added that all documents they now have were being evaluated.

Fortuna said the Dole had already ordered the recall of Villafuerte.

“It’s effective immediately, but we have not yet been advised on when he will be back in Manila,” she said, adding that they have also asked Villafuerte to answer the allegations against him.

Fortuna and her team are scheduled to leave for the Middle East on June 29.

She said their first stop will be Kuwait where they will stay until July 3. From Kuwait, they will proceed to Riyadh and then to Jordan.

The team is expected to be back in Manila by July 13.

“Our main objective is to gather data, we will collate both testimony and documentary evidence. Our objective is case buildup and from there we will determine if there is a basis for an administrative case,” Fortuna said.

Labor Undersecretary Danilo Cruz noted that if the investigating team finds that appropriate administrative charges should be filed against erring officials, it will be handled by another team that will be created by Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz.

“The result of the fact-finding and investigating team will be referred for possible action, which will be handled by another team.”

More complainants

As this developed, a nongovernment organization directly assisting distressed overseas Filipino workers on Tuesday called on those already repatriated to share their experiences as wards in government-run shelters overseas.

In a statement, Susan Ople, former labor undersecretary and president of the Ople Policy Center, said her group was in touch with two former OFWs who are prepared to file complaints of sexual harassment against certain labor personnel.

She said the two OFWs were willing to come forward to ensure that what they experienced would not happen to any other OFW seeking refuge in half-way houses.

“One of them had already met with our lawyers while we expect the second victim to come forward anytime this week. Though they are not involved in the ‘sex-for-flight’ controversy, their traumatic experiences at these shelters are important to underscore the urgent need for reforms,” Ople added.

She said the Ople Center can be reached via tel. nos. 8335337 and 8339562, or through blasoplecenter@hotmail.com.

Outgoing Sen. Manny Villar told reporters on Tuesday that reports on OFWs being sexually abused by labor officials could just be the tip of the iceberg.

“I believe it has been some time since these things started happening and we have to solve these,” Villar told the Senate’s weekly news forum.—With a report from Norman Bordadora

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