MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III suspended a welfare officer based in Dubai after an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) there claimed corruption in relief distribution.
In a statement late Friday, April 17, Bello said that the department is launching an investigation against welfare officer Danilo Flores over "misconduct." Flores is an employee of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai.
"Please be advised that welfare officer Flores is hereby suspended from the performance of his duties as welfare officer, pending investigation of the incident," Bello said.
The POLO office in Dubai and Northern Emirates is providing relief packages worth 300 dirhams to Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) members to tide them through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Non-OWWA members, meanwhile, were to receive 200 dirhams worth of grocery items.
But in a viral Facebook post on Thursday, April 16, Joy Parafina said that Flores called her "anak ng puta" (son of a bitch) when she asked whether there is a receipt that the relief packs being distributed are really worth 200 dirhams (P2,773.16)*.
"Ito ba ang welfare officer na ilalagay ng gobyerno? (Is this really the kind of welfare officer that the government will deploy?)" Parafina said.
"Ngayon po tinawagan ko 'yung Dan Flores na welfare officer sa Dubai, nagmura at sinabi pong anak daw po ako ng puta. Ako na raw ang tinutulungan ayaw ko pang tanggapin," she added. (Now, I called Dan Flores, a welfare officer in Dubai, he threw expletives and called me a son of a bitch. He said I was ungrateful for not accepting help.)
Parafina explained the relief package being distributed includes two packs of 5 kilograms of rice and a small box, which she protested from claiming without a receipt. She demanded that the box be opened.
After speaking to a staff, Parafina said that those being distributed, as it turned out, were from donations and not from the government, as OFWs were told.
Parafina said that Flores denied this during a call.
"Hindi po siya makaimik. Hindi raw po totoo 'yun. Sabi ko ''Yun ang sinabi ng taga-West Zone, hindi po 'nyo kasi binriefing ng maayos. Kung binriefing 'nyo ng maayos, eh 'di hindi sana sila madudulas'," she recounted.
(He couldn't talk. He said it's not true. I said, "That's what the staff from West Zone said, because you didn't brief them properly. If you briefed them properly, they would not have spilled the truth.")
Menwhile, Flores said the relief packages were not donations but were actually paid for through the OWWA food relief program for OFWs who were currently on a no-work-no-pay set-up with their employers due to the pandemic.
Under the program, 150 boxes were prepared – 50 for active OWWA members and 100 for inactive members.
“Hindi po yan donasyon. Binayaran ko yan. May resibo. (The relief packages were not donations. We paid for it. There are receipts,” Flores said, adding that the procurement cost 28,625 dirhams.
“Hindi kasi kami makalabas dahil sa quarantine kaya naisip namin na bumili sa West Zone. (Because of the quarantine, we could not go around. That is why we decided to purchase the items through West Zone.)” Flores added.
He further explained that per regulation, 200 dirham was appropriated for active OWWA members and 300 dirham for inactive ones.
On allegations that he bad-mouthed Parafina, Flores said: “Hindi ko minura. Sinita ko lang sya. Sabi ko ‘namputsa.' (I did not cuss her. I called her attention. I said namputsa.)”
He said Parafina actually does not qualify under the program because she is on visit visa. “Pinagbigyan ko sya dahil sa kanyang insistence. (I just included her among the recipients because of her insistence,” Flores said.
In a related development, Raju Gidwani, director of Shankar Trading Co. and the West Zone Group, said the transaction with OWWA was aboveboard. “West Zone is providing free logistics and distribution support in this crucial time to the community,” Gidwani said.
“The entire food package cost was borne by OWWA with the consulate of the Philippines in Dubai,” he added.
As of Friday, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs reported a total of 837 cases of coronavirus and 106 deaths among overseas Filipinos across 41 countries.
The number of infections worldwide surpassed 2.1 million, while over 145,000 people have died across 193 countries and territories. – with reports from Jojo Dass and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
*1 Emirati dirham = P13.87