overseas Filipinos

Ople calls for stronger anti-sexual harassment law after abusive former envoy only fined

Michelle Abad
Ople calls for stronger anti-sexual harassment law after abusive former envoy only fined

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Senate migrant workers committee chair Senator Raffy Tulfo says the government must go after those who maltreated OFWs, even from years before

MANILA, Philippines – Migrant Workers Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople called on senators to enhance the country’s anti-sexual harassment law after a former Philippine ambassador to Kuwait was only fined after abusing an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in his residence in Kuwait.

Kailangang tingnan po talaga ’yung anti-sexual harrassment law po natin para kasama po ’yung mga diplomats. Kasi sa ngayon po, hindi po nasampahan ng criminal case ’yung ambassador na ’yung at matagal na pong nakapag-retire,” Ople said in a hearing of the newly created Senate migrant workers committee on Wednesday, August 31.

(We need to review our anti-sexual harassment law to include diplomats. Because as of now, there was no criminal case filed against that ambassador, and he has already retired for quite some time.)

“I hope we can widen the coverage of the anti-sexual harassment law to include all government employees assigned to different countries, from the ambassador, to drivers and local hires,” Ople added in Filipino.

The name of the ambassador was not mentioned in the hearing, but Ople said that the sexual harassment case proceedings lasted for 10 years. The victim was in the Philippine government’s shelter, but the ambassador took her to work for him at his house. Ople was then part of the nongovernmental organization Blas Ople Policy Center, which provided legal assistance to the abused OFW.

Ople told senators that the case was only resolved in July, and the ambassador, who had since retired, was only required to pay a fine. The migrant workers secretary said that she has kept contact with the OFW survivor, who is now in Hong Kong and has a good working relationship with her employer.

The abuse happened in a foreign country. EnGendeRights executive editor and lawyer Clara Rita Padilla told Rappler acts committed at the Philippine embassy are definitely covered by Philippine laws, but there is a need to look at the territorial jurisdiction as to the ambassador’s home.

Padilla said she would argue that sexual harassment incidents are continuing from the embassy to the home, hence covered. In the hearing, Ople said that Philippine laws applied to the ambassador’s home.

“The law can be revised to cover embassies, residence of ambassadors, and perhaps acts committed elsewhere by diplomats,” said Padilla.

Senator Robinhood Padilla was particularly bothered about this case during the Wednesday hearing.

Mr. Chairman, nasa inyo na pong mga kamay yung mga ganitong pangyayari. Sana po magkaroon po tayo talaga ng ngipin sa mga ganitong pangyayari dahil ang hirap pong tanggapin talaga,” said Senator Padilla, addressing committee chair Senator Raffy Tulfo.

(Mr. Chairman, incidents like these are in your hands. [Our laws] should have the teeth for these types of incidents because this is unacceptable.)

It’s a case na pwede nating umpisahan. Yung mga nang-api sa mga OFWs several years ago, habulin po natin (We can start working from this case. Let’s go after those who maltreated OFWs several years ago),” said Tulfo.

Ople said during the hearing that the new Department of Migrant Workers was implementing a “very strong” anti-sexual harassment policy.

Very strong po ’yung tagubilin namin na dapat gender-sensitive po ‘yung ating staff sa Migrant Workers Offices, at galangin po lalo na ‘yung ating mga kababaihan (We have very strong instructions for our staff in Migrant Workers Offices to be gender-sensitive, and to respect [OFWs] especially women),” said Ople.

Several notorious cases of abusive Philippine ambassadors have come up in recent years, such as sacked Philippine ambassador to Brazil Marichu Mauro, who was found to have phsycially abused her household helper. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.