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Harsher penalties sought vs PH diplomats in sex case

/ 05:39 AM May 30, 2014
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Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello: Harsher penalties INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—A party-list representative, claiming that labor and foreign affairs officials had essentially closed ranks around their personnel implicated in allegations of sexual exploitation of Filipino workers abroad, is seeking more resolute action from  President Aquino and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Party-list Rep. Walden Bello (Akbayan), who heads the House overseas workers affairs committee that investigated allegations by OFWs that Philippine officials abroad had sexually abused or exploited them when they sought their help from abusive employers, said Thursday he would send the panel’s findings to the President.

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Bello is seeking a reversal of the light administrative sanctions that the diplomats received and to have harsher penalties imposed on them.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) earlier reprimanded and suspended two labor attachés implicated in the alleged abuse, but Bello said these penalties were mere slaps on the wrist.

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“I will ask [the President] to reverse the weak administrative sanctions,” Bello said.

He said he expected the DOJ, which had been looking into the matter, to hold the perpetrators criminally responsible.

In his cover letter attached to the committee report, Bello said the testimonies of witnesses and the victims, as well as evidence gathered, “painted a picture of a clique of public officials who are systemically running a prostitution, racketeering and extortion ring while dispensing their duties as public officials.”

Incomplete investigation

“Our consulates and embassies and government-operated safe houses are no longer havens where our migrant workers can seek shelter from abuse,” he said.

He also denounced the DOLE and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), accusing both departments of putting together a “sordid scheme” to ensure that their officials involved in the incidents would not be held accountable.

He said this could be seen in the DFA’s “incomplete investigation” on the matter and “cover-up” of a rape case involving one of its officials who allegedly abused a female Filipino worker in Iran.

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The DOLE, he said, meted out a “slap on the wrist” on assistant labor attaché Antonio Villafuerte and labor attaché Adam Musa.

Villafuerte, who was made to face a case of simple negligence at the DOLE, was accused of inappropriate behavior and attempted rape, while Musa faced complaints of covering up an attempted rape.

Musa was given a one-month suspension, while Villafuerte was given a reprimand.

Restore OFWs trust

Bello was also unhappy with Labor Secretary Rosario Baldoz’s defense of her department’s handling of the cases. Baldoz said that the victims’ failure to give further testimony had weakened the case and that the DOLE’s decisions were final.

“This does not bode well for our efforts to strengthen and reform these institutions. If both agencies are truly committed to hold erring officials accountable and restore our OFWs’ trust in these institutions, they would have exhausted all avenues and used every resource at their disposal to secure the victims’ testimonies and gather sufficient evidence to hold their officials liable,” Bello said.

He said he was also worried that the agencies’ promised reforms, such as hiring female officers to deal with distressed migrant workers, would be an exercise in futility unless the accused officials were prosecuted.

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TAGS: Congress, DFA, DOLE, government officials, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Sexual Abuse, Sexual Exploitation, Walden Bello
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