MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) Philippines and the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns (GFPC) are calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to retract the appointment of diplomat and lawyer Manuel A.J. Teehankee as Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for international economic relations.
Teehankee was found guilty of usury, and sentenced to 60 days on probation and fined 400 Swiss Francs* by the Geneva Police Court in Switzerland on December 17, 2014.
Teehankee, appointed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr on July 6, served as the Philippine ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva from 2004-2011.
The sentence came almost 10 years after a Filipina domestic worker pressed charges against the former ambassador in March 2005. Teehankee’s former house help, unnamed in the CMA and GFPC letter, claimed that she worked from 6 am until midnight daily, was not granted days-off, and received less than the Swiss minimum wage. The former ambassador did not appeal the conviction.
In an open letter to Duterte released on Wednesday, July 13, CMA and GFPC claimed that Teehankee’s appointment as foreign affairs undersecretary would be “sending the wrong and dangerous message that it is acceptable for Filipinos to exploit other Filipinos.” The groups claimed that it was Teehankee’s invocation of diplomatic immunity that dragged the case to span nearly a decade.
In a statement sent Saturday morning, July 16, Teehankee said he “acknowledges with deep regret the unfortunate misunderstanding and mistake committed relating to the level of required wages, while legally compliant with Philippine rules, that were required to be higher under Swiss Laws.”
He added that upon learning of the Swiss requirement in 2005, he “complied with Swiss requirements and caused his counsel to make immediate payment of all required amounts.” The mistake occurred during his first posting as a diplomat in 2004.
“No harm was intended, and all wages as sanctioned by Philippine and Swiss regulations have been long paid and settled,” Teehankee said. The issue has been resolved and parties had reached a “court-approved final and binding amicable settlement.”
The Vienna Convention provides for privileges of a diplomatic mission that allow diplomats to perform functions without fear of coercion by a host country. This is also the basis for diplomatic immunity extended to diplomats – essentially not subjecting them to the jurisdiction of local courts for official and personal activities.
“The welfare of our OFWs, especially the most vulnerable among them like the kasambahays, is never simply a personal matter. It is always a matter of public interest and social justice,” the open letter further read.
Teehankee, in his statement, said that he has “learned well from the experience and fully supports and abides by the advocacy and positions of the Center for Migrant Advocacy and the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns.” He added “…diplomatic immunity must never be used as a shield for wrongdoing.”
The groups called for accountability on the part of diplomats and the Department of Foreign Affairs when it comes to criminal cases filed against them. – Janelle Paris/Rappler.com
*on December 6, 2014: 1 CHF = P46.28
as of July 14, 2016: 1 CHF = P47.94
Janelle Paris is a Rappler intern.