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Sex ring cover-up bared

Sex abuse of OFWs unreported for years THE sex trade in diplomatic posts and Philippine overseas labor offices in Middle East countries had been going on for the past several years,  a labor official disclosed on Thursday. In a radio interview, Acting Labor Secretary Rebecca Chato said that Philippine overseas labor officers involved in the alleged sex rings were merely reprimanded and the incidents were not reported to the media. “Hindi ito na-ireport sa media para mabigyan ang mga naparusahan ng pag kakataon magbago,” she said. (“These were not reported in the media so that the guilty parties could change their ways,). Chato,  who met with  Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello to  discuss the investigation on officials linked to the sex mess,   vowed that there will be “no cover up, this time.” “We are expecting a report after two weeks and rest assured that we are not going to cover up anything.... The department will extend protection to them to ensure these people (investigators) are doing their job well and they’re not jeopardizing the interest of the OFWs,” Chato said. Bello echoed Chato’s  statement, saying “they (labor attaches) have been doing it for a long time.” Bello had asked the Foreign Affairs Department to recall more embassy officials in the Middle East as he named another labor attaché who he claimed was also involved in ‘sexual assaults’ against distressed female Filipino workers in an Arab county. He asked Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario to order Antonio Villafuerte, assistant Labor attaché in Riyadh, together with all other Philippine embassy officials assigned in United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to come home and answer allegations of sexual abuse hurled against them. Villafuerte, according to Bello, has been reported to be also involved in a “sexual molestation” of a distressed Filipina in Riyadh, named ‘Michelle’ (not her real name). Bello said Michelle had provided his office “detailed data” of how Villafuerte had sexually abused her. He  asked the Labor Department to expand its investigation in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Del Rosario earlier ordered the three Labor officials allegedly involved in the ‘sex-for-flight’ scandal in the  Middle East to return to the Philippines and face investigation. Bello identified the three officials as “Kim,” who is based in Damascus; Mario Antonio, assistant labor attaché of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office of POLO in Amman; and Blas Marquez, a Polo officer in Kuwait. Bello said Antonio and Marquez are allegedly running prostitution rings while Kim is said to have been caught “in an intimate act with a female worker” at the Embassy’s shelter for distressed workers. He claimed that Antonio sells Filipinas to Palestinians for $1,000 a night of sexual services. Antonio also allegedly operated the same scheme when he was assigned in Beirut and Tokyo. Marquez, a contractual employee of the POLO in Kuwait, has long been involved in ‘sex-for-hire’ in the FWRC. Meanwhile,  John Leonard Monterona,   vice-chairperson of partylist group Migrante and coordinator in  Middle East and North Africa, said that based on accounts by the victims,  the alleged members of the ‘sex-for-flight’ ring in Saudi Arabia would first ask a Filipina ward at the Bahay Kalinga or Filipino Workers Resource Center, if she has money to pay for her own airplane tickets, and other expenses. If a woman says that she has indeed no money for such, the official would discreetly offer to the woman an  ‘indecent proposal’ of having a prospective ‘client’ in exchange for cash. During night time, the worker would be fetched by either the driver or any local-hire staff of embassy and labor officials.  The payment ranges from 500 rials to 1,000 rials, or as low as 100 for very desperate OFW wards. Monterona called on President Aguino, the DFA and the DOLE to immediately recall Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzadin Tago and the now Riyadh-based Labor Attache Adam Musa. Monterona said that both allegedly failed to act on their official capacity as top Philippine officials in Saudi Arabia on the alleged sexual complaint lodged on August 2012 by a distressed Filipino worker. Meanwhile, Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luzviminda Ilagan called for the immediate repatriation of distressed Filipino migrant workers in the Middle East. Ilagan said that the Philippine embassy officials should be held accountable for “sex-for-ticket” modus operandi the Middle East. In the Senate,  Acting Senate President Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada has called on the DFA and the DOLE to “render justice” to distressed Filipinsa victimized into prostitution and sexual abuse by Filipino embassy and labor officers. He also challenged the government agencies to dismantle the sex ring operating in the Middle East. Del Rosario, meanwhile, admitted that he was initially unaware of reports of prostitution rings allegedly operated by Philippine embassy staffers, despite purported knowledge of senior foreign officials that these practices had been going on. “No, I must admit it’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” Del Rosario said in a television interview. Del Rosario had ordered eight more envoys to the Middle East to come home for consultations amid the controversy. “We need to have our ambassadors participate in the fact-finding initiatives that the Department of Foreign Affairs has started,” department spokesman Raul Hernandez said. Asked to come home are the envoys from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon. Del Rosario earlier ordered Charge d’Affaires Nestor Padalhan (Syria), Ambassador Olivia Palala (Jordan) and Charge d’Affaires Raul Dado (Kuwait) to return to Manila to shed light on the allegations by Bello. Hernandez said the DFA is  encouraging the victims and witnesses to come forward and submit formal complaints and testimonies. While in Manila, the envoys will be briefed on how to prevent sex-related offenses in the future through orientation programs, training and education on gender sensitivity. With Maricel V. Cruz, Ronald O. Reyes, Macon R. Araneta  and PNA
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