MANILA, Philippines—The fact-finding team created by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to look into the alleged sex-for-flight scheme at several Philippine diplomatic outposts in the Middle East is expanding its investigation to cover other irregularities reported in Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (Polo) in the region.
Lawyer Leah Fortuna, probe team leader, said they had a big job ahead of them after Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz instructed them not to limit their investigation to the sex-for-repatriation allegations.
“We will look into several other issues reported to us, including irregularities in operational policy matters,” Fortuna told reporters.
Bottom line: Reforms
“The bottom line is, at the end of the process, whether somebody will be charged or not, whether the allegations are true or not, there should be reforms,” she said.
Reports had surfaced that some distressed OFWs staying at the welfare centers or halfway houses awaiting repatriation were being made to do part-time jobs, like working as waiters in hotels, apparently by some labor officers.
But other labor officials explained that OFWs at the centers were not allowed to take part-time jobs because this exposed them to risks and they were not covered by employment contracts.
As of Thursday, the DOLE fact-finding team was preparing to depart for the Middle East on Saturday to gather more testimonial and documentary evidence.
The three-member team would be in Kuwait until July 3, then proceed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, until July 9 and then on to Jordan before returning home on July 13.
“We’re now doing a final meeting and finishing touches on the documents or the information that we need to take note of for validation at those posts,” Fortuna said, adding that the documents included the affidavits of the three OFWs who had accused Riyadh-based assistant labor attaché Antonio Villafuerte of sexually molesting them and pimping them in exchange for plane tickets home.
Villafuerte is scheduled to arrive in Manila on Friday.
OFW watchdog Migrante International on Thursday called on the Philippine government to urgently act on complaints from stranded OFWs in Riyadh who had complained of alleged harassment and threats by Villafuerte.
Harassment in Riyadh
According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairman, they received reports from Migrante-Riyadh that Villafuerte, upon learning of the reports linking him to the sex-for-flight scheme, allegedly proceeded to harass OFWs at the Bahay Kalinga halfway house in Riyadh.
On June 24, Villafuerte reportedly went to Bahay Kalinga and forced the women OFWs to sign affidavits refuting the allegations against him, Martinez said in a statement.
“They were forced to sign under duress. The women OFWs are desperate to return home before the July 3 deadline. They know fully well that no one can leave Bahay Kalinga without a request from Villafuerte,” he said.
Meanwhile, Philippine envoys in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong had been summoned to the home office on Friday to help the Department of Foreign Affairs gather more information on cases of sexual abuse in migrant workers’ shelters and draw up measures to prevent such incidents from happening again.