Ex-OFW files ethics complaint vs Bertiz

Mara Cepeda
Ex-OFW files ethics complaint vs Bertiz

Rappler

Ex-OFW Sheila Mabunga claims to be a 'human trafficking victim' of a recruitment agency formerly run by ACTS-OFW Representative John Bertiz, but the lawmaker's camp disputes this

MANILA, Philippines – A former overseas Filipino worker (OFW)  on Thursday, October 4, filed an ethics complaint against ACTS-OFW Representative John Bertiz before the House committee on ethics and privileges.

In a news briefing, Mabunga accused Global Asia Alliance Consultants Incorporated (GAACI), the recruitment agency formerly run by Bertiz,  as a “human trafficker” for deploying her in August 2014 to a different employer than the one indicated in her contract.

Noong mga panahon na ako ay dumating na sa Saudi Arabia o sa Riyadh, nalaman ko na magkaiba ang employer sa dala kong kontrata at sa aking working visa. Ito ay patunay na isang human trafficker ang agency ni Congressman Bertiz,” she said.

(During the time I arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I found out the employer listed in my contract and working visa is different from the one who actually met me there. This is proof that Congressman Bertiz’s agency is a human trafficker.)

A March 2016 general information sheet (GIS) from the Securities and Exchange Commission confirmed Bertiz was the president and member of the board of directors of GAACI. The GIS in August 2016, however, no longer listed Bertiz as board member and president. 

Bertiz’s chief of staff Francisco Aguilar Jr told Rappler Bertiz fully divested his shares in the agency when Bertiz become a lawmaker after the May 2016 elections. 

Mabunga’s complaint, however, was not notarized. Lawyer Amador Lanuza, committee secretary of the ethics and privileges panel, said an ethics complaint has to be notarized and must contain Mabunga’s sworn affidavits. 

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, who was among the Makabayan lawmakers who accompanied Mabunga at the press conference, said the missing documents will be submitted to the committee as soon as possible.

What is Mabunga’s story? In her written testimony, Mabunga said she had applied to be a cook in Saudi Arabia in 2013 through Key’s Placement Agency, supposedly owned by Bertiz’s wife. Her application forms were then transferred to GAACI, which offered her to be a household service worker in Saudi Arabia instead. 

Mabunga said she pushed through with her application and flew to Riyadh in August 2014. She said her contract indicated a certain Sammir Nazzer Al-Abdan as her employer. She said that under the contract, she was supposed to get a monthly salary of $400, enough time for rest, and proper treatment by her employer.

But another man, a certain Fahad Yaka Aldossari, picked her up from the airport and introduced himself as her employer. She ended up working at Al Kharj, a province outside Riyadh.

Mabunga said she was abused and overworked by Aldossari, who also did not feed her properly. 

Noong mga panahon na ako ay nagtatrabaho sa naturang employer, alam naman natin na ‘pag ikaw ay nasa bansang [Saudi] Arabia, may lahi silang malupit, malupit sa mga household service worker (We know that employers in Saudi Arabia tend to be cruel to household service workers),” said Mabunga, whose voice started breaking as she recounted her ordeal.

Pinarating ko sa pamunuan ng Global Asia ang hirap na naranasan ko – pagmamaltrato, pagmamalupit, sa madaling salita, walang kain. Mahirap ang mga dinanas ko sa pekeng employer na pinag-deployan nila sa akin. Bukod doon, wala pang sahod,” said Mabunga. 

(I told the management of Global Asia about my ordeal – the abuse, the cruelty, and the lack of food. I went through a difficult time under the fake employer they had deployed me to. Apart from that, I didn’t get paid.)

She said the ordeal eventually paralyzed her left arm. 

Mabunga said that when she reported her case to GAACI in December 2014, the company’s employees supposedly told her to go return to her employer and finish her contract.

[Sabi nila]: ‘Tapusin mo ang kontrata na pinirmahan mo kasi sayang ang pera.’ Pera lang ba ang mahalaga, hindi ba ang buhay (They told me: “Finish the contract you signed because the money will go to waste.” Which is more important: money or my life)?” she said.

Mabunga said her father than filed a request for repatriation with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in February 2015.  

Was she able to talk to Bertiz himself? Yes. In June 2015, Mabunga said Bertiz flew to Saudi Arabia to talk to her and her employer. 

Mabunga said she asked Bertiz to bring her home, but the latter said this was not possible because she did not have her exit visa at the time.

She said Bertiz and Aldossari promised the she would be able to go back to the Philippines after Ramadan, with Bertiz supposedly promising to help shoulder her college education as well. But this did not happen. Bertiz also allegedly told her not to file a case against Aldossari. 

Mabunga continued working for Aldossari, but she suffered even worse abuse.

She then approached a non-governmental organization and Migrante, which finally helped her return home in August 2015. 

Sometime in 2016, Mabunga said she filed cases against Bertiz and GAACI with the POEA and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), but she said these were still pending because of Bertiz’s “delaying tactics.”

Wala kang word of honor. ‘Di ka dapat tinatawag na honorable. Puro ka lang ningas-kugon.  Huwad ka… Pati pangarap ko sinira mo (You do not have any word of honor. You should not be called honorable. You never follow through on your promises. You’re fake… You destroyed my dreams).” said Mabunga. 

How did Bertiz’s camp respond to the allegations? Aguilar said it is unfair to tag GAACI as a human trafficker.  

Alam mo, ’yon nga ‘yong parang ‘di naman maganda. Human trafficking [cases], you cannot file it in POEA, NLRC. ‘Di nagdidinig ng ganyan ang line agencies, so that only means ‘di totoo ‘yong human trafficking,” he said. 

(I don’t think that’s proper. You cannot file human trafficking cases with the POEA and the NLRC. Line agencies do not hear cases like that, so that only means the human trafficking allegation is not true.)

Aguilar said he also called the new GAACI management, who told him that Mabunga’s cases have already been “settled.”

Still, he said Bertiz was ready to face a House ethics probe.

If mag-imbestiga ang ethics committee, wala namang problema. Nakahanda naman kaming harapin kung ano ang dapat harapin (If the ethics committee will launch a probe, we’ll have no problem with that. We are ready to face what we need to face),” said Aguilar.

Bertiz himself had even filed a resolution directing the House panel to investigate the incident at NAIA. The committee had yet to schedule a public hearing.

Mabunga’s ethics complaint is the latest in a string of controversies hounding Bertiz, which began with his “joke” to a new engineers that their licenses would not be released if they didn’t know Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, an apparent senatorial aspirant.

He is also under fire for confronting a security checker at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), captured on video that had gone viral, and for an apology that made fun of a woman’s menstrual cycle, which prompted another apology. 

Bertiz, who went through angioplasty surgery last year, had been hospitalized after he and his family started getting threats. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.