The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) seems bent on pursuing the case of alleged sexual exploitation of distressed female overseas Filipino workers. Secretary Albert del Rosario himself went to the office of Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello to seek further information on his accusations. Next, he recalled ambassadors and top officials of Philippine embassies and consulates implicated in Bello’s exposé to come home to shed light on the matter.
It was Bello, chair of the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs, who accused certain embassy and labor officials of demanding sex from distressed OFWs in exchange for a free ticket home—or what has been dubbed the “sex-for-flight scheme.”
Bello named three officials, calling them “predators”—Labor Attaché Mario Antonio of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Polo) in Jordan; Blas Marquez, contractual employee of Polo-Kuwait; and a Mr. Kim, a member of the DFA’s Augmentation Team in Syria.
The reports allegedly came from senior foreign affairs and labor officials.
For those who have been closely monitoring the problems of OFWs, the report of a sex-for-flight scheme is not new.
Former Ambassador Roy Señeres, OFW Family Club party-list representative-elect, said reports of the sex-for-flight scheme have been going around for quite some time but for various reasons, no one has come forward to formally complain.
Fe Nicodemus, president of the Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Manggagagawang Pilipino Inc. (Kakammpi), said she has been receiving similar reports, pimping included.
Recently, three female OFWs came forward. But none of those named by Bello were among those they accused. None were from the three countries Bello mentioned. It was Labor Attaché Antonio Villafuerte from Saudi Arabia who was accused by the three.
Another OFW who arrived from Syria denied the controversy.
Let’s face it. As long as there are no complaints that are formally filed and as long as there are no complainants who are willing to come forward, claims of sexual abuses and exploitation will remain baseless, hearsay.
What if the people behind those accusations have an ax to grind against someone in the government?
Antonio vehemently denied the accusations against him. When he showed up at a press conference to make a statement, the broadcast media was quick to judge him based on his physical appearance. “It’s not impossible that he would do it,” they claimed. But this reasoning is unfair.
Facing reporters, Antonio said he has been serving Overseas Workers Welfare Association for 30 years and has been assigned in five countries as a welfare officer. He said he wouldn’t risk the career he had meticulously built for a long time in exchange for money, or through an irresponsible act.
Antonio appealed to the public not to judge him but instead to wait for the results of the investigation. He said he welcomed the chance to clear his name.
According to his colleagues, Antonio is a former activist who is comfortable wearing T-shirts and slippers. Antonio said he has no money to hire a lawyer to defend him. His children are hurting, too. They are taunted at school: “kids of a rapist or a pimp.”
For the past 16 years, Bantay OCW has also been receiving reports about certain officials allegedly engaged in sex-for-assistance schemes. But cases do not progress.
We will await the results of the investigation. We hope it will not remain in the realm of hearsay.
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