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Did DFA do enough in rape scandal?

MANILA, Philippines – In a prestigious school in New Delhi, an 11-year-old Filipino boy trembled, as he squatted on a toilet seat.

Perched atop the toilet, he crouched as he was told, facing the flush valve. He was terrified and silent. Classes had just been dismissed.

Brian Rodriguez* was ready to go home, when his Angolan classmate Weza*, also in 5th grade, forced him into the school’s washroom.

Weza, taller and bigger than Brian, made him enter a toilet cubicle before he locked the door.

Weza pulled down his own shorts, then his underwear. Then he pulled down Brian’s school uniform shorts and his underwear too.

Pinuwersa siyang tumungtong sa toilet at sinabing mag-squat siya,” the father of the victim wrote, describing the incident in a desperate letter. “Doon na nagsimula ang kababuyan na ginawa sa anak ko (He forced my son to squat on the toilet. And that’s when the bestiality began).”

In the letter, the father detailed the events that led to the abuse, up to the point when it actually happened. 

Perhaps too pained to say it, Neil Rodriguez* instead wrote, “Sa diretsong pag-iisip ginawang aso ang anak ko (In other words, he treated my son like a dog).”

The distress in the email is clear as day.

It started with Neil introducing himself as the husband of a Philippine embassy official in India. He and his family lived in New Delhi, on diplomatic passports because of the job of his wife, Cecille*.

Then Neil talked about how his family’s life changed after they found out about Brian’s rape – which they only learned of in early June – 3 months after it happened in March 2017. His wife, he said, the breadwinner, had been sleepless, and their college daughter was suddenly failing class. Brian had first told his elder sister of the abuse, who then told her parents.

Neil said they’ve continuously asked help from the embassy, only to be ignored.

Kaya po ako sumulat sa inyo Ma’am sapagkat humingi ako ng tulong at proper guidance (This is why I’m writing you because I am asking for help and proper guidance),” the email pleaded.

The email was dated June 30, 2017 and addressed to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Embassy action?

Brian’s rape hit news headlines in India on June 26, just a little over a week after the family found out about the abuse.

The email to the DFA, specifically addressed to Maria Lourdes Salcedo, Executive Director of the Human Resources Management Office, followed 4 days after.

But 11 months since the first letter was sent to the department, the family has yet to receive any assistance from the government, according to a source familiar with the family's plight.

According to documents obtained by Rappler, the Rodriguez family reached out to the Philippine government through multiple channels: first through the embassy, then to the DFA, and later, to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano himself.

The repeated pleas for help appeared to fall on deaf ears.

In the June 30 email, Neil said his wife Cecille informed the embassy of the incident early that same month, as soon as they learned about what happened to Brian. He said his wife met with Philippine ambassador to India Teresita Daza, Deputy Chief of Mission and Consul General Arvin de Leon, and new Administrative Officer Charles Lawrence Ching to seek their help.

“The ambassador told her we should resolve the problem as a family and just let her know what we decide to do,” he wrote in Filipino.

Neil said in the email that he was offended by the ambassador’s response, and wondered why the embassy did not help them – given the family’s diplomatic status.

He then addressed a strong question to the government agency, under an administration that has branded itself as an advocate of Overseas Filipino Workers' (OFWs') interests.

Tayong tiga embassy na ganyan ang sinasabi sa 'tin, paano pa kaya ang pangkaraniwan na OFW (If we from the embassy are treated this way, then what more the regular OFW)?” he wrote in the email.

Help from foreigners

Aside from seeking help from the embassy, Neil said in his email that they brought Brian to the hospital for a check-up after they found out about the abuse.

At the hospital, “they took my child’s blood tests and an HIV test,” said Neil. “They inserted an instrument into my child’s butt to see the inside.”

The family was also informed by doctors that it was standard protocol for the hospital to report any incidents of crime to the police. Neil said in his email that they agreed to speak to authorities.

According to various news reports from Indian media, the police interviewed the family, including Brian, on June 22 and found sufficient basis to file a case.

“We have registered a case under section 377 (unnatural sex), 506 (criminal intimidation), and relevant sections of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) at the South Campus Police Station,” DNA India quoted a senior police official as saying.

Evidence on victim's side

News reports also said that Weza’s family then went to the police on June 24, two days after the Rodriguez family did, to file their counter-complaint, accusing Brian of being the aggressor and sexually assaulting Weza.

While the police received the family’s complaint, they did not find it sufficient to register a case.

Indian media also pointed out that the case “left Delhi Police in knots, owing to the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by the accused.” Like Brian, Weza is the son of an Angolese diplomat.

Because of the complications of the case – with Weza’s diplomatic status, and being a minor himself – he has yet to be apprehended, said news reports.

However, another news report from Tribune India said, while the police have been unable to act against the accused, it appeared Brian's family was able to gain a little bit of justice, at least in school: Weza was expelled from school after the incident came to light.

His expulsion was independently verified and confirmed by Rappler.

Direct plea

By the end of June 2017, the Rodriguez family had gotten assistance from Indian authorities – the hospital, Brian’s school, and police – but still not from Philippine officials.

From the embassy, the family shifted their focus to the DFA.

In another letter on July 7, 2017, this time addressed directly to Cayetano, Cecille, as an embassy official and thus a DFA employee, sought the help of the Foreign Secretary. (The letter was mistakenly dated June 7, 2017 but was referred to later in other documents as having been sent in July).

“I am writing to you Sir, to seek your immediate and utmost support, help and assistance concerning the crime committed against my 11-year-old son, who was sexually assaulted inside the school washroom by his fellow classmate,” she wrote.

“It is my hope that with the Secretary’s direct assistance/intervention, my family will be able to get justice for my son for the crime committed against him by the son of a fellow diplomat in India.”

The letter ends with a plea in bold and in caps: “PLEASE HELP US SIR. OUR FAMILY IS PRAYING FOR THE BEST RESOLUTION TO THE CASE.”

In the letter, Cecille also informed Cayetano that the case is with the South Campus Police Station R.K. Puram, and that the family was expecting a police report to be released by the end of July 2017.

She explained to him that the report would then be submitted to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at the Patiala House Family Court, “for us to come to a decision how to move forward given the legal issues due to the diplomatic status of both victim and offender.”

Sent home

There was no written response to Cecille's email to Salcedo, nor the letter to Cayetano.

Instead, the DFA ordered the Rodriguez family to return to the Philippines – despite the case filed by the family with Indian police, in hopes of finding justice for Brian.

Documents show that on September 26, 2017, a little over two months after Cecille’s letter to Cayetano, DFA Undersecretary for Administration Linglingay F. Lacanlale signed an Assignment Order ordering the Rodriguez family to come home “effective immediately”.

Another Assignment Order dated October 10, this time signed by Undersecretary Jose Luis Montales, reiterated Cecille’s reassignment “effective 27 November 2017….from the Philippine Embassy in New Delhi to the Home Office.”

The reassignment was a surprise for the Rodriguez family, according to an appeal letter written by Cecille.

On October 23, the day she received the second reassignment order, Cecille wrote a letter to Cayetano, Montales and Lacanlale, where she appealed “for the deferment of my reassignment order…on humanitarian grounds.”

She gave several reasons for the appeal, including Brian’s rape and his health, the children’s schooling, and financial burdens since Cecille is “the only one who currently works in the family.”

Cecille explained that Brian and his sister were in the middle of the school year and that a transfer would affect their studies and put to waste the fees they had already paid. “I request that they be allowed to finish the entire school year for our family to escape being saddled with more burden and costs due to the children being unable to finish the school year,” she said.

She also cited Brian’s rape.

Cecille mentioned the pending case with the Indian authorities, and that they were awaiting the results of the police investigation report.

“We are still on the recovering stage and mending as to what had happened to our son,” she wrote. “We are still in pain, tension and coping with the physical, psychological and emotional trauma this has caused us.”

She was also baffled by the reassignment order, adding, “I am unaware of the reason/s of my immediate recall.”

“If I have been accused of something requiring a reassignment, I was not made aware of the same by my superiors nor was I able to explain or defend myself or air my side, much less give proof of my innocence against some accusation against me,” she said.

Denied

The DFA responded to Cecille’s appeal about two weeks later, in a letter signed by Lacanlale.

“Please be informed that the Department assessed your plea for humanitarian consideration vis-à-vis its decision for issuing the recall order, keeping in mind its mandate to deliver public service efficiently,” the letter said.

“After due deliberation, the Department upholds the recall order and enjoins you to abide by the said Order.”

As ordered by the DFA, the Rodriguez family flew back to Manila on November 27, forced to pull out their children from their education mid-school year.

They also left the pending police case, their only chance for the slightest semblance of justice for Brian.

Asked about the recall, a DFA official who refused to be named confirmed Cecille's reassignment but insisted "it has nothing to do with the incident involving her son."

The official said Cecille "was recalled for several reasons" which "cannot be disclosed to the public as these are subject to the Data Privacy Act of 2012." 

Direct knowledge

The untimely reassignment and lack of assistance provided to the family by the embassy and the DFA were troubling, given the Foreign Secretary’s direct knowledge of the crime against Brian.

In the appeal letter written by Cecille to Cayetano, she referred to the July 7 letter she wrote to him wherein she first sought his help to pursue justice for her son.

She also mentioned a “miraculous meeting with you on 5 July 2017,” suggesting that Cecille met with Cayetano face to face about the matter.

Rappler asked Cayetano about the meeting mentioned in the letter, which Cayetano admitted to having in his office in Manila.

The meeting apparently took place while Cecille was in the Philippines for a trip. Cayetano said Cecille was a friend of one of his staff, who helped her get face time with him.

“She went to see me,” he told Rappler on March 20, 2018, at the sidelines of a DFA press conference.

Cayetano acknolwedged that Cecille felt slighted by Philippine officials, but disagreed that there had been a lack of assistance.

“From the start, even before I came, there was assistance. In all ways possible. The problem is when you’re a complainant, you only see, understandably, injustice. But every country has laws, procedures, complications,” he said.

“As a lawyer I understand that. And I explained that to her. It’s not like, ‘Can you help us?’ and I said, ‘No.’ It’s not like that. Because there’s something she wants to happen, but the process is not like that. Though I did tell my people, find a way.”

He also referred to “certain complexities” in the case – an allusion to the diplomatic immunity protecting Weza.

But a source familiar with the case disputed Cayetano's claim that assistance was provided "in all ways possible."

The source said that while there were indeed complications in the case, not even legal advice or psychological help was offered to Brian or the family.

No official help

Rappler also reached out to the New Delhi embassy requesting an interview with Ambassador Daza. The embassy acknowledged receipt of the request but refused to comment. 

The ranking DFA source also defended the embassy, telling Rappler via email that "the Embassy assisted."

"Upon receipt of the information on the incident, the Embassy took action by having its officers, including a Vice Consul and the Defense Attaché, accompany the mother in submitting an incident report to the school," the source said.

"Officials from the Embassy also accompanied the mother in her visit and follow-ups to the school. The Embassy also offered to have her accompanied by the Security Officer but she refused."

The other source close to the family confirmed that the Vice Consul and Defense Attaché did accompany Cecille to the school, but not in any official capacity.

"They accompanied as friends [of Cecille], simply out of their own initiative and concern, not as representatives sent by the embassy," the source said, adding that Cecille never received any offer of help from the ambassador.

Upon further investigation, Rappler discovered that the vice consul has since been reassigned as well.

As for the defense attaché, Neil mentioned his assistance in the email to the DFA, contradicting the DFA official's claims.

"The Deputy Chief of Mission (Arvin R. de Leon) was so angry at my wife for involving the Defense Attaché when he isn't part of the Embassy," he wrote in the email dated June 2017.

“I would always think, ‘If only the embassy were assisting us, that would give us comfort and help lighten the burden of what we’re experiencing.’” – Rappler.com

*Names have been changed for the protection of individuals and their privacy.