Victim unmasks self, faces OFW ‘abuser’

Paterno Esmaquel II
The alleged abuser, Riyadh labor attaché Antonio 'Tony' Villafuerte, denies accusations against him before the Senate

FACING 'ABUSER.' 'Michelle' (2nd from right) unmasks herself for the first time. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

MANILA, Philippines – Tensions rose during the sex-for-flight investigation Thursday, August 15, after a victim unmasked herself for the first time to face her alleged abuser.

The victim, who hid under the name “Michelle,” removed her black veil and addressed her alleged abuser, Riyadh labor attaché Antonio “Tony” Villafuerte.

Michelle cried as she faced the attaché: “Ngayon, Mr Villafuerte, naaalala mo po ba ako, ‘yung ginawa mo sa akin? Naaalala ‘nyo po ba? Huwag kayong magsisinungaling dahil hindi lamang po ako ang nakakita no’n.” (Now, Mr Villafuerte, do you remember me, what you did to me? Do you remember me?)

In his blue long-sleeved shirt, Villafuerte kept a straight face while listening to his accuser.

Sen Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the Senate labor committee, asked Villafuerte: “Kilala mo ba itong si Michelle, Mr Villafuerte? Kilalang kilala mo?” (Do you know Michelle, Mr Villafuerte? Do you know her well?)

Kilala ko po, your honor,” Villafuerte said. (I know her, your honor.) 

Estrada shot back, “Pinagtangkaan mo siyang gahasain?” (Did you attempt to rape her?)

Hindi po totoo ‘yon, your honor,” the attaché replied. (That’s not true, your honor.)

This took place on the second day of the Senate investigation into the sex-for-flight scheme, in front of top officials like Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz. It was Villafuerte’s first time to address accusations against him before the Senate. 

‘Salungso, salungki’

Villafuerte faces some of the worst accusations of sex abuse in the Middle East.

In a privilege speech last July 29, Sen Estrada accused Villafuerte of molesting Michelle as well as other distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

READ: Senate to grill ‘sexual predators in barong’

UNDER FIRE. Labor attaché Tony Villafuerte (1st from right) faces accusations of sex abuse. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

Estrada said Michelle requested personal effects, such as underwear, from Villafuerte after she fled her employer. Villafuerte allegedly sent this text message to Michelle: “Nagpabili nako 2 salungso at 6 na salungki, kunin mo kay Mam Lita.” (I already requested them to buy 2 bras and 6 panties. Just get these from Ma’am Lita.)

Senators considered the “salungso” and “salungki,unusual Filipino words for “bra” and “panty,” offensive.

Michelle also alleged that in May, Villafuerte molested her in a welfare officer’s room.

Biglang hinila siya ni Villafuerte, sinandal sa pader, hinalikan at dinilaan sa labi habang nilalamas ang kanyang dibdib. At nang tinataas na ni Villafuerte ang abaya ni Michelle, siya ay nagpumiglas at nagkaroon ng pagkakataon na tumakas,” Estrada said. (Villafuerte pulled her, pushed her to the wall, kissed, and licked her while caressing her breasts. And when Villafuerte was already lifting the abaya of Michelle, she fought back and had a chance to escape.)

During the hearing, Estrada tested if Villafuerte indeed owns the number that sent the supposedly offensive messages on “salungso” and “salungki.”

Villafuerte read his cellphone number in the Senate session hall. Estrada then asked Michelle, “Nagma-match ba ‘yung number?” (Does the number match?)

Opo,” Michelle said. (Yes.)

Villafuerte: Out of context

Villafuerte admitted having texted that message to Michelle. The attaché, however, said the message was taken out of context.

Noong nagpabili kasi siya ng underwear na hindi ko pa siya nakikita, na-embarrass din po ako. Kasi sabi ko sa sarili ko, hindi ko pa nakikita ang babaeng ito, nagpapabili na sa akin ng underwear,” he said. (When she asked me to buy underwear, even if I haven’t met her, I felt embarrassed. I told myself, I haven’t met this woman and yet she’s already asking me to buy her underwear.)

Villafuerte said he referred Michelle to a certain Richard, the center coordinator of the halfway home called Bahay Kalinga, to ask if they have spare underwear. The halfway home, however, didn’t have stocks of these, so he asked a certain Lita to buy underwear for Michelle during the weekend.

Noong tinext ko ‘yan, ang gusto ko lang malaman noon ay kung natanggap na niya yung pinabili ko. Wala po akong ibig sabihin o malisya,” Villafuerte said. (When I texted that, what I wanted to know was if she already received what I ordered. I didn’t mean anything bad or malicious.)

SENATE PROBE. The Senate resumes its hearings on the sex-for-flight scheme on August 22. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

Villafuerte also denied the molestation complaint, because he was not in the Bahay Kalinga when the incident supposedly happened. “Wala pong pangyayari,” he said. (It didn’t happen.)

Michelle, Villafuerte, and other embassy and labor officials will return to the Senate next Thursday, August 22, as the sex-for-flight investigation continues. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.