MANILA, Philippines—Heads must roll, or else.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello threatened, on Wednesday, to have the Department of Labor and Employment’s proposed P10.5 billion budget for 2014 cut by 25 percent if it would not pursue criminal or administrative penalties against personnel implicated in the alleged sexual exploitation of distressed Filipino workers in Middle East countries.
The findings of the team that investigated allegations of sexual abuse incidents will be submitted on Thursday (Aug. 15) to Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, who vowed that if any are found to have committed infractions, they would be held accountable.
Bello said many people, aghast as the revelation of abuse allegedly committed by Filipino officials against fellow Filipino workers in Middle Eastern countries, have been expecting punishment.
“If the DoLE does not endorse criminal penalties or undertake substantive administrative actions against personnel attached to the DoLE in the Middle East, then I will be forced to file a resolution cutting your budget by 25 percent,” Bello said during the House of Representatives’ hearing for the DoLE budget.
He said he was not making an idle threat, because other lawmakers shared his sentiment.
“Justice must be done. Heads must roll. If these are people connected with the DoLE, I hope we don’t stand in the way of justice being done to them,” he added.
More OFWs would like to come out to reveal their ordeal in the hands of Philippine officials overseas, he further said.
It was Bello who first made public allegations that distressed OFWs were allegedly sexually exploited by embassy and overseas labor officials in Middle East countries. Some of the workers were allegedly told to turn to prostitution to finance their plane tickets back home.
In response to the Akbayan lawmaker, Baldoz said she shared lawmakers’ sentiment that the abuse of OFWs must not be condoned, and those who committed these must be penalized.
Baldoz said the DoLE has no intention of whitewashing the incident. She will act accordingly on the matter, based on the investigation report of her team and the merits of the case.
According to her, the fact-finding team she created had visited Riyadh, Jordan, and Kuwait and interviewed 160 people, aside from embassy and Philippine Overseas Labor Office officials.
The team received the last pleadings with regard to the probe on August 1, and had since then been evaluating and analyzing the information to determine whether there are evidence against those involved, and what charges could be filed against them. It will submit its findings to her not later than today, she said.
“I should be able to give myself time to review the report and make recommendations. If I can finish it by Friday, then I will be able to come up already with some initial report,” she told reporters.
Meanwhile, Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said she found the P50 million emergency repatriation budget for distressed OFWs in 2014 to be too small considering the presence of Filipino workers in hundreds of thousands in countries experiencing upheavals.
“Don’t you think this amount should have been bigger to anticipate future crises in the political and economic arena?” Ilagan asked Baldoz.
In response, the labor secretary said that in the case of legally documented workers, the recruitment agencies would share the responsibility of taking care of their overseas employees, including repatriation.
In case the OFWs are active members of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and need to be sent back home, there are allocations under its budget which could be used for repatriation, according to Baldoz.
In a separate statement, Ilagan expressed her concern that the government’s “meager allocation” would result in the slow repatriation of Filipino workers during emergencies, which could give rise to a situation where the workers would once again be easy prey for abusive officials.
“The slow repatriation process makes our OFWs vulnerable to abuses like ‘sex for flight’,” she said.
She contended that the government’s repatriation budget should be based on actual studies on what distressed migrant workers need.