3 labor officials named in 'sex-for-repatriation' scandal in Middle East
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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE, 12:20 p.m.) Three labor officials assigned in the Middle East were named in the scandal where they allegedly offer free repatriation to stranded or distressed female overseas Filipino workers in exchange for sexual favors.
In a news conference, Akbayan partylist Representative Walden Bello identified the "three predators" as a certain Mr. Kim, who is based in Damascus, Syria; Assistant Labor Attache Mario Antonio of Amman, Jordan; and Blas Marquez, an officer of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuwait.
The officials could not immediately be contacted for their comment.
POLO stands for the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, which serves as the satellite office of the Department of Labor and Employment abroad.
Bello called for the dismissal and criminal prosecution of these three personnel in the Middle East
for running a sex-for-hire business and for sexually exploiting distressed OFWs in exchange for their repatriation.
"Sexual abuse on our womenfolk perpetrated by their hosts in a foreign country is an awful crime. But there is something more awful, and that is their exploitation by their own compatriots in a strange land, and this is triply terrible when they are exploited sexually by government officials that are supposed to protect them," he said in a news conference.
Bello, chairperson of the committee on overseas workers affairs in the House of Representatives, exhorted the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment to dismiss the officials and help the victims and complainants pursue criminal charges against the three.
He said the victims of the three officials are still comtemplating on taking legal action, but that several embassy staff have filed formal complaints against them as early as 2009.
"These criminals parading as officials must be stripped of their positions, recalled to the Philipines, and prosecuted," said the partylist lawmaker, who conducted his own investigation and documented the cases of abuses. He said he was also able to talk to various sources, who revealed to him the identity of the embassy officials.
Bello said Mr. Kim (nickname), a member of the augmentation team of the DFA in Damascus, Syria, was engaged in sexually abusing OFWs in exchange for their flight home away from the strife-torn country.
Quoting several witnesses, Bello said Mr. Kim was caught on January 1, 2013 in an intimate act with a female OFW at the pool side of the embassy shelter. Three of the many witnesses filed affidavits detailing the incident.
According to Bello, other witnesses also said that Mr. Kim also had intimate relationships with at least four other distressed OFWs 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," he said, adding that the official was given a memo ordering him to attend modules on gender sensitivity.
Bello said Predators Two and Three, Antonio and Marquez, respectively, exploit OFWs at the shelter by making them engage in sex-for-hire business.
"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," he said.
Bello said Antonio has also been accused of operating a prostitution ring when he was posted in Beirut and Tokyo.
Marquez, meanwhile, was a local hire of the POLO in Kuwait. Quoting a confidential report by a high-ranking official, based on her interview with embassy personnel in Kuwait, Bello said Marquez "has long been involved in sex-for-hire in the Filipino Workers' Resource Center."
"There have been many complaints against him, but he eluded the dragnet because he is a townmate of now disgraced Ambassador Shulan Primavera," Bello said.
Primavera, the country's Ambassador to Kuwait, was recently recalled following sexual molestation charges by an OFW.
"Predator Three (Marquez) is still engaging in his nefarious business of sex-for-hire. Apparently, POLO officials have to condone Predator Three because he might spill the beans as he knows many unlawful incidents in POLO," Bello added.
Earlier, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz created a team that would investigate one instance where a female OFW stuck in the holding center in Kuwait alleged that she has been offered a free trip back home in exchange for a sexual favor.