Whitewash feared in sex-for-flight probe
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Breaking into tears, victims of the alleged sex-for-flight scheme demanded government action on Tuesday, July 30, after nearly 6 weeks without a perpetrator punished.
The political party Akbayan, which blew the whistle on the case, joined 7 victims in denouncing a possible “whitewash” by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
The party, through its representatives in the House, Walden Bello and Ibarra Gutierrez, launched a congressional investigation into the case on Tuesday.
Masked and cloaked in black, Michelle (not her real name) said victims will pursue criminal along with administrative charges against the perpetrators. She singled out Riyadh assistant labor attaché Antonio “Tony” Villafuerte, who allegedly raped her.
“Kami po ay willing lumaban hanggang sa huli. Hindi po kami bibitaw hanggang hindi po napapatawan ng parusa si Mr Tony Villafuerte po,” Michelle said in a press conference at the House of Representatives on Tuesday. (We’re willing to fight until the end. We won’t let go until Mr Villafuerte remains unpunished.)
Michelle added the government shouldn’t cover up for their so-called “predators.”
She took a jab at the all-woman team investigating the alleged scheme. “Babae rin po kayo. Sana nararamdaman ninyo ang nararamdaman namin,” the victim said. (You’re women, too. I hope you can feel what we’re feeling.)
Another victim, April (not her real name), also cried in demanding government action on their case.
She explained that the case has damaged even their personal relationships. “Nawalan na ho sila ng paggalang dahil sa nangyari po sa amin,” she said. (They lost respect for us because of what happened.)
The sex-for-flight scheme involves sexually abusing distressed overseas Filipino workers in exchange for repatriation, as disclosed by Bello last June 18.
‘Show you’re serious’
Bello, who chairs the the House Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs, on Tuesday blasted the DFA and DOLE for failing to impose disciplinary measures on or prosecuting the suspects.
Bello said Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario, last June 24, promised to recommend action against “13 individuals connected with the DFA and DOLE.”
He said Del Rosario, however, has refused his “repeated requests” for the document that details the recommendations against the 13 individuals. Del Rosario reportedly told him the DFA is “still studying the ‘legal implications’ of the proposed actions.”
“This means none of the promised disciplinary or criminal measures have been implemented,” the congressman said.
Bello added that Acting Labor Secretary Rebecca Chato, on the other hand, assured him that the findings of the investigating team “would be available within two weeks.”
He said the DOLE, however, has refused to update his party on the sex-for-flight investigation. Citing sources in the DOLE, he said the agency’s higher-ups claim that casual employees or local hires of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office perpetrated the abuses.
The higher-ups supposedly claim that the suspects have already resigned and, thus, have no longer been “within DOLE’s reach for administrative action or criminal prosecution.”
Bello said the DFA and DOLE should show they’re “serious” in holding perpetrators accountable.
“The DOLE and DFA must realize that they cannot get away with stalling in the investigation and prosecution of the criminals in their ranks. The public will not allow this,” Bello said.
DFA: Not proven
In a statement, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez clarified that only 2 of the 13 accused individuals come from the DFA. He said one of them has been terminated, while another is under investigation.
The remaining 11, on the other hand, come from DOLE. Hernandez said DOLE is conducting its own investigation.
He added that the DFA has informed Bello about this. In the confidential document that Bello distributed to reporters, the DFA named the following allegedly involved parties:
- Mohammed Abdul Majid, Qatar POLO interpreter – Accused of collecting money from wards for tickets that have been paid for by sponsors and recruitment agencies; ordered to return money collected from wards and terminated December 2011
- Nasser Macarimbang, Qatar ATN officer – Accused of offensive questioning of an alleged sex abuse victim; reprimanded, taken out of the case, and set for immediate recall
- Sitti Jaafar, Qatar welfare officer – Accused of bringing home wards to her residence; ordered by the head of post to stop doing so, and had her tour of duty ended Feb 15, 2011
- Camaloden Guro, Syria augmentation team member – Accused of fraternizing with wards and engaging in inappropriate behavior, such as kissing and hugging, with a ward during a New Year’s Eve function; reprimanded, while the ward concerned claimed it was consensual
- Victor Godoy, locally hired OWWA driver in Jordan – Accused of verbal abuse because the ward refused sexual overtures; had his contract terminated as of April 2013 while set to be investigated by the DOLE team
- Antonio Villafuerte, Riyadh PE Asst Labatt – Accused of sexual harassment and molestation, as attested to by 3 wards; set for investigation by the DOLE team as his notice for recall was released June 24, 2013
- Jose Casicas, Saudi Arabia driver of Labatt – Accused of sexual assault and attempted rape; had contract terminated June 21, 2013, notwithstanding the desistance of the complainant from pursuing the case; set for investigation by the DOLE team
- Bashir Ayub, Saudi Arabia local hire and interpreter in POLO Riyadh – Accused to be an alleged “sex maniac”; set to be investigated by the DOLE team
- Richard Seneres, manager of FWRC Riyadh – Was the subject of a complaint after wards’ valuables were lost after being entrusted to him; set to be investigated by the DOLE team
- Alfredo Labrador, DFA’s local hire driver in Syria – Accused of multiple complaints of sexual harassment; terminated
- Mario Antonio – Accused of running a sex ring in Tokyo, Lebanon, and Jordan; set to be investigated by the DOLE team, and recalled June 11, 2013 due to the request of the Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Blas Marquez, OWWA local hire – Accused of participating in the alleged sex-for-hire scheme; suspended effective June 18, 2013 and set to be investigated by the DOLE team
- Jose Gratil, Kuwait FWRC volunteer (guard) – Accused of kissing wards on the cheeks; resigned April 11, 2013 and set to be investigated by the DOLE team
“The sex-for-fly allegations have not been proven. However, harassment cases involving 13 individuals have been looked into and today, we have sent their names to the good congressman,” Hernandez said.
In a separate press conference, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the DOLE has reported its findings to President Benigno Aquino III. Valte said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has recommended measures to avert schemes like sex-for-flight.
“Magkakaroon po ng aksiyon diyan. Gusto lang pong siguraduhin ng DOLE na masinop iyong kanilang mga magiging findings,” Valte said. (We will act on this. DOLE just wants to ensure due diligence in its findings.)
The Senate, for its part, is also set to grill the so-called “predators in barong Tagalog.” – Rappler.com