— The Philippine government is now expanding its investigation into allegations of sexual favors in order for overseas contract workers to be repatriated from the Middle East to parts of Asia.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario is heading the investigation into the allegations. Over the weekend, he met with 12 ambassadors and a consul general, who are all based in the Middle East and North Africa. Del Rosario says they put together information that would bring “justice to the victims” and “punish the guilty.”
Del Rosario also spoke with the three women who confirmed allegations of “sexual harassment, molestation and abuse of authority.” He says an official with the Department of Labor and Employment has been recalled and will be under investigation in relation to one of the women’s claims.
But the department has not yet been able to verify allegations that workers were pulled into sex rings or prostituted by overseas labor officials.
“What we need to do now is we need to encourage victims and witnesses to come forward. And we hope we can convince them to do this,” he said.
Del Rosario says the investigation is focused on government-run temporary shelters, where distressed overseas workers stay while they wait to be repatriated. As part of the probe, his office has sent for the country’s top diplomats in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
A Manila-based migrant workers’ advocacy group, Migrante International
, has expressed concern the investigation is not independent. Caseworker Mic Catuira says the people who face allegations work for the very agencies that are investigating them.
“So we are afraid. We are actually bothered that the case could be derailed or maybe whitewashed," said Catuira.
Catuira says there have been cases in the past where Migrante International succeeded in helping remove officials taking advantage of workers, only to see them placed in desirable positions once they returned to the Philippines.
Del Rosario says the DFA is considering the option of filing graft and corruption charges against any foreign service worker proven to have carried out sex-related offenses in his or her official capacity.