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Aquino warns foreign-service personnel against exploiting OFWs


President Aquino AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—As the government continued to investigate charges of sexual exploitation of distressed Filipina workers by Philippine foreign service personnel, President Aquino warned Tuesday of dire consequences for officials or other government employees found to have abused their countrymen abroad.

The President said his standard marching order to ambassadors being posted abroad was to prioritize the welfare of the 10 million Filipino workers.

“I always remind them: We have something like 10 million Filipinos outside of the country. The first function of any of our personnel outside of the country is to ensure the well-being and safety of our countrymen,’’ he told reporters at Camp Crame.

The President noted in that many in the Philippine foreign service did a good job of keeping Filipinos out of harm’s way during the Arab Spring, a wave of uprisings that swept through the Arab world beginning in 2011.

“But if there are lawbreakers— the watchmen turned intruders — they should be prepared [to face the consequences] because they did the opposite of what we instructed them to do,’’ he added.

Foreign office and labor department officials are inquiring separately into the alleged sexual exploitation of Filipino women in embassies in Jordan, Syria and Kuwait exposed by Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello.

Three Filipino women have accused a labor officer in Saudi Arabia of molesting them and pimping them to clients in exchange for plane tickets to the Philippines.

The heads of the Philippine missions in Kuwait, Syria and Jordan have been summoned home to explain their side, while ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon have also been asked to come home to shed light on the charges and recommend ways to stop more abuses.

The President was to meet with Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz in Malacañang on Tuesday afternoon to discuss updates on the case, and proposals to investigate Filipino officials linked to the exploitation of Filipina overseas workers.

“I’m scheduled to meet her this afternoon where we will tackle all of the details of their ongoing investigation of their personnel,’’ he said.

Mr. Aquino said he would form a special body to investigate the matter if the situation called for it.

“If warranted… and if I’m not happy with the results, or they ask for more assistance from other agencies like the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), for instance, then we will do so,’’ he said.

Apart from the departments of foreign affairs and labor, the National Bureau of Investigation has also begun an investigation into the alleged sexual exploitation.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima did not rule out the filing of criminal charges against foreign-service officers for crimes committed in Philippine embassies or consulates abroad, but said this would depend entirely on outcome of the investigation.

Bello sought protection for the victims while the investigation is continuing.

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Tags: Aquino administration , foreign-service personnel , ofws , Overseas Filipino workers , President Aquino , President Benigno Aquino III

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