Legislator unhappy with response to OFW plaints of exploitation
MANILA, Philippines—The chair of the House committee on overseas workers affairs is banking on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to pursue the criminal prosecution of the Philippine labor and embassy officials accused of involvement in the sexual exploitation of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East.
Party-list Rep. Walden Bello (Akbayan), the committee chair who first raised the issue of the alleged mistreatment of the OFWs, said he was dissatisfied with the response of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to the workers’ complaints.
Bello said he hoped the DOJ would take a stronger stand on the issue.
During the last committee hearing earlier this month, Bello endorsed to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima the case of the OFWs who testified before the committee on what they had experienced when they sought help from Philippine labor officials in Saudi Arabia.
The committee having ended its own investigation, Bello said he would come up with a report on the issues that he believes the authorities should address.
“It’s important that prosecutions and convictions be obtained because that’s very necessary to convince the OFWs that the government is able to respond to their needs and prove that we can come through with action on this,” he said in a phone interview.
OFWs based in Saudi Arabia had complained that the Philippine officials there had used vulgar language in talking to them after they sought help following their escape from abusive Arab employers.
Still others said the officials had advised them to engage in “part-time” work, a euphemism for prostitution so they could earn the money for their plane tickets home, when it is the Philippine government that is supposed to pay for their repatriation.
According to Bello, he was heartened by De Lima’s statement that the complaining OFWs could seek help under the government’s witness protection program, as fears for their safety was a major reason some workers had been reluctant to pursue their cases.
“This will encourage more of them to step forward. The problem of the witnesses is that they worry about retaliation and security,” he said.
Another source of concern for the workers is their livelihood, said Bello. Some would want to continue to work abroad, he added.—Leila B. Salaverria
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