MANILA, Philippines—A labor attaché came under intense questioning at the Senate on Thursday over his alleged coddling of a Filipino driver accused of raping a 28-year-old runaway overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
The case of Grace Sales, 29, who admitted to having run away from her abusive employer, came to dominate the first day of the hearings of the Senate blue ribbon committee on the sex-for-flight scandal in several Middle East diplomatic posts.
A bipartisan group of senators took the cudgels for Sales, who told the committee that the driver of the labor official, Adam Musa, had attempted to rape her while she was staying at a temporary shelter for runaway OFWs run by the labor office.
Instead of helping her, however, Musa attempted to buy her silence by giving her 10,000 Saudi riyals and offering to help her obtain a document to legalize her stay in the oil-rich kingdom, Sales said.
The money supposedly represented three months of the salary of the accused driver, Jose Casitas.
‘Lack of propriety’
Musa, who tried to evade responsibility during the initial questioning, got a stern talking-to from the senators for his lack of propriety and inconsistent answers.
Even Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz came under sharp questioning over the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) procedures in such situations.
“Even if they’re undocumented, they are Filipinos and they are entitled to the protection of their government anywhere in the world,” said Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
“Don’t tell me that simply because they are astray, they are not documented, you would just leave them to fend for themselves, oppress them and even rape them,” Enrile added.
Enrile asked Musa why he didn’t take action against his driver, who was reportedly trying to arrange a settlement with Sales after the alleged attack.
“Why did you not belabor to find out what this problem was that was settled by three months’ salary of your driver? Common sense tells me that you should want to know why anybody would want to pay off somebody,” Enrile said.
“You admitted before this committee that you knew of a complaint of a Filipino woman… Why did your driver settle anything? Was that attempted rape?” the senator asked.
Musa said that all he knew was there was a misunderstanding between Sales, who was hired as a janitor at the labor office after running away from her abusive employer, and Casitas, a Filipino who had been hired in Saudi Arabia.
Musa said he did not have the opportunity to talk to Sales after she ran away following the alleged attempted rape.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, an advocate of OFW welfare, questioned Baldoz on why the DOLE allowed the attempted settlement of the case.
No such policy
“Is that a practice in the labor department that you let those under you settle a case, money for a settlement? If I were to manage an office, if there’s a complaint, I will not encourage them to make a settlement with the complainant,” Villar said.
“There’s an impression that you’re whitewashing everything,” Villar added.
Baldoz said there was no such policy to encourage the settlement of criminal complaints.
“If such is the case, whether administrative or if it has a criminal aspect, it is immediately investigated,” Baldoz said.
In her testimony before the committee, Sales said she sent Musa a text message the morning after the alleged attack, which occurred on the night of Aug. 21, 2012.
“I never received a response from him,” Sales told the panel, headed by committee chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona III.
Sales said she ran away from Bahay Kalinga, the temporary shelter for runaways, after Musa failed to address her complaint against Casitas.
Two weeks later, she said Musa contacted her and offered her 10,000 Saudi riyals and help to obtain a document that would legalize her continued stay in the oil-rich state.
Asked what Musa was seeking in exchange for his help, Sales said: “For me to keep silent and go into hiding.”
She said Musa had promised her he would fire the driver. However, not only did Musa not fire the driver, the promised document never materialized, Sales said.
Musa denied making such an offer.
“We have no authority to issue authorization for work in Saudi Arabia,” he told the committee.