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Labor execs accused of sex abuse

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello on Tuesday identified three Labor officials assigned in the Middle East who allegedly offered distressed Filipinas free flights home in exchange for sexual favors, triggering an order from President Benigno Aquino III for an investigation. “Sexual abuse on our womenfolk perpetrated by their hosts in a foreign country is an awful crime,” Bello told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. “But there is something more awful... when they are exploited sexually by government officials that are supposed to protect them,” Bello said. Bello identified the officials as a certain Mr. Kim, based in Damascus, Syria; Labor attache Mario Antonio in Amman, Jordan; and Blas Marquez, an officer of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuwait, and said complaints filed against the “three predators” had fallen on deaf ears. At the Palace, deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the President has ordered the Foreign Affairs Department to investigate the “sex-for-flights” reports. “The DFA is already looking into this. The head of the embassy in Kuwait has been instructed to act on this,” she said. Valte appealed to the victims to come out and file formal complaints to ensure that justice is served. “To this date, we have not received any formal complaint from the alleged victims, which is why we are encouraging those with information or those who have been victimized by these alleged practices to come forward then to file a complaint because the Department of Foreign Affairs is more than willing to act on them,” she added. Bello, chairman of the House committee on overseas workers affairs during the 15th Congress, said he had conducted his own investigation, and found that “Mr. Kim” was caught in an “intimate act” with a female worker at the pool side of the embassy shelter on Jan. 1, 2013. Bello said witnesses had filed sworn statement detailing the incident. Other witnesses, Bello said, said Mr. Kim also had “intimate relationships” with at least four other distressed female workers in the past. “Despite this record of exploiting vulnerable wards, Predator One (Mr. Kim) was given what can only be regarded as tap on the wrist,” Bello said. On the other hand, Bello said, Antonio and Marquez exploited women in shelters by offering them to paying customers. “Witnesses claim that he (Antonio) charges as much as $1,000 a night for the services of one OFW. He is in effect, running a prostitution ring using distressed OFWs. This man’s activities are so disreputable and illegal that the government of Jordan has requested that he be removed,” Bello said. Bello said he had information that Antonio had been operating a prostitution ring when he was posted in Beirut and Tokyo. Marquez, a local hire in Kuwait, “has long been involved in sex-for-hire in the Filipino Workers’ Resource Center,” Bello said, quoting a confidential report by a high embassy official based in Kuwait. “There have been many complaints against him, but he eluded the dragnet because he is a town mate of now disgraced Ambassador Shulan Primavera,” Bello said. Bello demanded the Department of Foreign Affairs provide assistance to the victims of the three Labor officials, and also pursue criminal charges against them. He said that victims were also contemplating taking the necessary legal action against their predators. “These criminals parading as officials must be stripped of their positions, recalled to the Philippines, and prosecuted,” Bello said. Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz also created a team that would investigate the allegations and said she would personally file criminal charges against any Labor officials involved in sexual abuse. With Rio N. Araja, Joyce Pangco Pañares and Vito Barcelo   
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