DOLE to distressed OFWs: Come out and help us
MANILA, Philippines – Labor Undersecretary Rebecca Chato urged alleged victims of the "sex-for-flight" scheme "to come out and help (us) out."
In an interview over radio dzBB on Sunday, June 23, Chato, together with Atty. Leah Fortuna of the Office of the Secretary, said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has been urging the victims to come out because the investigation needs "strong documentation."
"Kailangan po kasi, puno't dulo ma-address iyong [issue], madali pong pumunta sa media at magsalita nang magsalita pero kung hanggang hindi natin ayusin ang imbestigasydon hindi ho natin mareremedyuhan ito," Chato said. (We need to get to bottom of the issue to address it. It’s easy to go to the media and talk. But if we do not fix the investigation, we won’t be able to solve this.)
On Tuesday, June 18, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, chairman of the House committee on overseas workers' affairs, divulged the details of the sex-for-flight scheme in the Middle East. In said scheme, embassy officials allegedly promise victims they will be prioritized in repatriation in exchange for sexual favors.
Bello named 3 officials involved in the scheme, calling these envoys "predators." These officials include Mario Antonio, the assistant labor attaché in Jordan; Blas Marquez, a local hire or a contractual employee of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait; and
a certain "Kim," who is a member of the Augmentation Team of the Department of Foreign Affairs at the embassy in Damascus, Syria.
Chato explained that if no formal complaint would be filled, the process "may be put to waste."
"Masasayang po iyong buong proceso kapag hindi sila nakipagtulungan dahil maaring ma-wrap up namin iyan at ma-administrative proceedings kami at makapag-impose ng disiplina na wala kaming pinanghahawakan, mare-revise iyon. So sayang po ang buong proceso," Chato explained. (The process will be put to waste if they don’t help out because there is a possibility that the investigation will be wrapped up and in an administrative proceeding, if [we] impose disciplinary action without [proper documentation], it might be revised. The whole process will be wasted.)
Chato added that the DOLE is taking the issue "very seriously" and it wants to "dig deeper" into it.
Chato called on the victims and those who may have information on the sex-for-flight scheme to get in touch with the investigating team in Manila at telephone numbers (02) 527-3000 local 705, (02) 551-1560, (02) 551-6641, (02) 722-1144, and (02) 722-1155.
44 OFWs from Kuwait
Fortuna, head of the probe, recalled that the issue surfaced following a media interview with one of the 44 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who returned from Kuwait on June 4.
"It was the takeoff point and then we tried to gather addresses and contact numbers from the 44 in the list," Fortuna said.
Fortuna disclosed that she was able to get the list and so far talked to 4 OFWs. She said the 4 were not victims of the sex-for-flight scheme.
But Fortuna said out of the 44 who arrived on June 4, only one came from a "resource center or shelter" of the POLO in Kuwait, while the remaining 43 came from the deportation center.
Fortuna explained that the reports they got on the scheme came from OFWs in resource centers in Kuwait.
Even if no formal complaint has been filed, Fortuna gave assurance that the investigation would continue.
"Marami kasing nag-feedback na dahil walang complainant, hindi kami mag-iimbestiga, that is not the point," Fortuna explained. (We’ve been getting feedbacks that just because there is no complainant, there will be no investigation. That is not the point.)
Chato said POLO officers have also been directed to investigate the scheme. She added Fortuna would fly to the Middle East by end-June to gather the findings of the POLO officers.
Status of investigation
Fortuna said the 3 labor officials who allegedly sexually abused OFWs are now being investigated.
Fortuna said a notice to explain has been issued to Antonio and on Saturday, June 22, she received Antonio’s explanation. Antonio earlier denied he's involved in the scheme.
Read and watch: Labor official denies 'prostituting' OFWs
Fortuna said Antonio's explanation is being evaluated. He said Antonio is not yet suspended but has been "recalled from his post."
Chato said Antonio was recalled for "other reasons." She refused to elabortae.
As for Marquez, Fortuna said the labor attaché in Kuwait already suspended him.
Chato said Marquez, a contractual employee and a local hire for the post, is "preventively suspended because of the ongoing investigation." - Rappler.com