LABOR ATTACHÉ IN 'SEX-FOR-FLY' RING FACES PROBE / 8 MORE MIDEAST ENVOYS ORDERED HOME AMID SEX-ABUSE REPORTS
MANILA, JUNE 24, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Louis Bacani - For the first time after he was accused of running a prostitution ring in Jordan, embattled labor officer Mario Antonio finally faced the public on Thursday and demanded due process and respect for his rights.
Antonio, assistant labor attaché in Amman, Jordan again denied the accusations hurled against him, saying these have affected his reputation and his family.
Claiming that he has a clean track record, Antonio said he is willing to submit himself into a full investigation on the controversy. He also urged the public to wait for the results of the probe and not pass judge on him.
"Ako ay nakahandang sagutin ang mga katanungan sa tamang venue at panahon upang lumabas ang katotohanan at mapatunayan ang aking kawalang-sala. I'm submitting myself to full investigation," Antonio said at a televised press briefing on Thursday.
"Bigyan naman po ako ng pagkakataong linisin ang aking pangalan. Hinihingi ko rin na huwag niyo akong agad husgahan," he added.
Antonio said the allegations against him may be a part of a smear campaign in relation to his work as a public servant.
"Dahil sa aking paninidigan na ipaglaban ang ating mga Pilipinong manggagawa sa ibayong dagat ay maaaring may hindi nasisiyahan sa aking ginagawa," said the officer, who returned to the country on June 12 not due to the controversy but because his "tour of duty" has ended.
Related story: Jordan labor officer denies operating OFW sex ring
Earlier this week, Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello accused Antonio and two other labor officials in the Middle East for allegedly being involved in sexual activities with distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in exchange of repatriation.
Bello accused Antonio of prostituting female OFWs who have problems with their work and employers.
He also claimed that a certain Kim from Damascus, Syria was allegedly involved with intimate relationships with at least four distressed OFWs.
The lawmaker also tagged a Blas Marquez from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuwait for being involved in a sex-for-hire business in the Filipino Workers' Resource Center in the country.
On Wednesday, Bello had a closed-door meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who said he would oversee the investigation to ensure that it is “transparent, comprehensive and undertaken as early and as expeditiously (as possible).”
Del Rosario had announced that the Department of Foreign Affairs has ordered the other two accused officers to return home and face the investigation.
At the same press briefing on Thursday, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief Carmelita Dimzon said they have still not received any formal complaint on alleged sexual activities involving labor officers.
In a radio interview on Thursday morning, a distressed OFW identified as "Michelle" said she received "indecent proposals" from her labor officers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in exchange of speedy process for her repatriation.
But she fears for backlash from labor officials if ever she files a formal complaint.
"Siguro po kailangan ko munang pag-isipan kasi po gusto ko pa pong bumalik, marami po akong obligasyon," the Filipina OFW said.
Labor exec denies operating embassy sex ring By Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 21, 2013 - 12:00am
Mario Antonio, assistant labor attaché to Jordan, speaking during a press conference on the OFW sex scandal at the OWWA Center in Pasay City yesterday. EDD GUMBAN
MANILA, Philippines - After being accused of operating a prostitution ring victimizing distressed Filipina workers in Jordan, former labor attaché Mario Antonio showed up yesterday to deny the accusation and made an appeal that he not be judged.
“I vehemently deny the accusations being hurled against me. This has been gravely affecting me and my family so I decided to come here to give my side,” Antonio told reporters at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) office in Pasay City.
“I’m asking for your understanding. I appeal to you not to judge me and just wait for the results of the investigation. I hope that you will respect my rights,” he said.
OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon sat next to Antonio when he issued the denial. He declined to answer questions, saying he did not want to preempt the investigation.
He said he would give his side in greater detail at a “proper forum.” He excused himself after delivering his statement, leaving Dimzon to answer questions from reporters.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bellow accused Antonio and other embassy staff of currying sexual favors from female OFWs or pimping them to foreigners in exchange for a return flight to the Philippines.
Also named by Bello in the alleged sex-for-repatriation anomaly were Blas Marquez, a contractual employee of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait, and a certain Kim who is a member of the Augmentation Team of the Department of Foreign Affairs at the embassy in Damascus, Syria. According to Antonio, no complaint has been filed against him.
“I have been serving truthfully as a welfare officer in five overseas posts in the past 30 years of my service with OWWA. In my last posting, I was assigned as acting labor attaché of the POLO in Jordan and during this period I have been dedicated in protecting the welfare and rights of our fellow Filipinos there,” Antonio said.
“Because of my conviction to fight for our Filipino workers abroad, I might have made some people unhappy with what I have been doing,” he added.
Dimzon said Antonio returned to the Philippines last June 12 after the end of his tour of duty in Jordan. She denied having knowledge about reports that Antonio had been declared a persona non grata in Jordan.
“He is on leave now since he wanted to take a rest,” she added.
Dimzon said she had heard complaints against Antonio but not of the nature revealed by Bello. She did not elaborate.
“No OFW has come to us to give a statement, affidavit or complaint – even verbal – that she was asked for a sexual favor in exchange for repatriation,” Dimzon stressed.
She said the issue has affected the morale of OWWA officials and employees.
She said it is not unusual for welfare officers to get accused of misdeeds in doing their jobs.
“Just like what he (Antonio) said, it is not impossible that when you do your job, you make some people unhappy so it is likely that someone will complain against you,” she said.
She described Antonio as a “dependable welfare officer who delivers whatever task is given to him.”
“He follows without complaint or question. He is not choosy when it comes to work, he is a very dependable officer,” she maintained.
Special task force
Despite Antonio’s denial, Bello said President Aquino should step into the case by creating a special task force or commission to conduct an independent inquiry into the allegations.
He made the call after a meeting at his Batasan office with five officials of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) led by acting Secretary Rebecca Chato.
He later told reporters that he would resign as member of Congress “in protest over the inaction of labor officials” if no criminal charges were filed against Antonio and Marquez. He said a third official he identified only as Mr. Kim was even caught in an “intimate act” with a displaced Filipina worker last Jan. 1.
Bello said his DOLE informants have expressed reservations about the impartiality of the department regarding the issue.
“They fear there could be a whitewash. They also feel that witnesses would be freer to talk before an independent presidential task force or commission,” he said.
He said his DFA informants have no such doubts on the fairness of their officials investigating Mr. Kim, whom he also called Kim Guro.
Bello also proposed that a presidential body expand its inquiry “historically and geographically” to include past cases and all acts of wrongdoing, including extortion, in other countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
“In particular, we have information that there have been similar cases in Qatar and UAE, but these have not been resolved,” he said.
Yesterday, radio dzMM interviewed a certain “Michelle,” who claimed to have been asked by a Philippine labor officer in Saudi to sleep with him at his home instead of at the temporary shelter for distressed workers. She said other labor officers had explicitly asked to have sex with her.
She said she was offered to an Egyptian client who, instead of taking advantage of her, took pity on her and bought her a plane ticket to Manila.
Bello said he was disappointed with DOLE officials’ claiming no knowledge of the irregularity before he made the exposé.
“These activities are common knowledge among embassy personnel in Jordan and Kuwait. Mr. Antonio faced similar charges in Beirut and Tokyo, while there is a Commission on Audit report on the alleged shortchanging by Mr. Marquez of Filipino workers paying for their employment certificates to the tune of P330,000 per year since 1997,” he said.
He also expressed disbelief over the officials’ statement that they could not force Marquez to fly home and face an investigation, since the latter is a “local hire.”
“They can ask the DFA to cancel his passport to force him to return home. They can file charges against him in Kuwait, if there were laws violated there,” he said.
Bello said he did not have a copy of the supposed Jordan government’s request but added that the DFA had already acknowledged that there was such communication.
He also admitted not possessing any of the sworn statements he said were executed by three witnesses to the supposed Jan. 1 incident involving DFA’s Mr. Kim.
Another party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela renewed calls for the immediate repatriation of distressed OFWs to keep them from being abused while in shelters.
“The prostitution of OFWs in distress is an offshoot of the government’s long-time neglect of our Filipino migrant workers,” Ilagan said in a statement.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, meanwhile, threatened to work for cuts in the budgets of the DFA and DOLE.
At the DFA, Secretary Albert del Rosario has directed the 11 Philippine ambassadors in the Middle East to come home immediately for consultation as well as discussion on the controversy.
“We need to have our ambassadors participate in the fact-finding initiatives that the DFA has started. We need to find ways to collectively encourage victims and witnesses to come forward and submit formal complaints and testimonies,” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said yesterday.
Hernandez did not name the 11 diplomats who are expected to arrive over the weekend.
The Department of Budget and Management, for its part, said social welfare attachés would be deployed in six areas abroad to ensure the protection of OFWs.
Under the proposal drafted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the six social welfare attachés will be stationed in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jeddah, Hong Kong, South Korea and Qatar.
These countries have been identified as having the largest concentration of migrant Filipinos, and where many of them are in crisis situations.
“The deployment of social welfare ambassadors will go a long way in safeguarding the well-being of our workers abroad and giving them immediate aid, even if they’re thousands of miles away from home,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Vice President Jejomar Binay appealed yesterday for greater cooperation between the Church and the government and other relevant institutions in safeguarding the welfare of the families of OFWs.
He made the appeal in a speech delivered before the Asian Working Group of the International Catholic Migration Commission. Binay is presidential adviser on OFWs. – With Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago, Jose Rodel Clapano, Christina Mendez
FROM GMA NEWS TV
Eight more MidEast envoys ordered home amid sex abuse reports Michaela del CallarJune 20, 2013 3:50pm
Tags: Department of Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has ordered eight more Philippine envoys to the Middle East to come home for consultations amid accusations of sex abuse allegedly committed by embassy staff and officers against distressed Filipina workers in the region.
“We need to have our ambassadors participate in the fact-finding initiatives that the Department of Foreign Affairs has started,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing on Thursday.
Hernandez said the participation of the envoys from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon will enable the department to address thoroughly the issue on the alleged sex-related offenses.
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 allegations by party-list Rep. Walden Bello that some of their staff are allegedly engaged in a “sex-for-repatriation” scheme.
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.
“We need to make an assessment of the capability of our posts to deal with circumstances such as what we now face,” Hernandez said.
Also asked to return to the home office are several labor officers and an embassy staff who have been named by Bello as the main perpetrators of sexual abuse on Filipino workers.
Antonio denies charges
One of those Bello named, labor official Mario Antonio who is assigned to the embassy in Amman, Jordan, faced reporters at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration office, where he denied the accusations against him.
Antonio said he was surprised at the allegations, saying he has had a long stint as a labor attache, with no derogatory record.
In a separate interview on dzBB radio, Antonio said the information being fed to Bello about him came from human traffickers and illegal recruiters.
"Yan ay hindi makatotohanan. 'Yan ay siguro dala yan ng salita ng recruitment agency at trafficker sa pagtanggol natin ng mga OFW," he said.
No complaints received
Hernandez said the DFA is finding ways to collectively encourage victims and witnesses to come forward and submit formal complaints and testimonies.
The DFA maintained that no complaint has been received by the department regarding the accusations of sex abuses committed against Filipina workers by embassy officers as revealed by Bello this week.
“We need to agree on information dissemination plans to have a wider reach in order to complete our information regarding this issue,” Hernandez said.
Bello, citing information from a senior DFA official, said troubled Filipino women seeking shelter in diplomatic posts in Syria, Jordan, and Kuwait are allegedly being offered immediate repatriation by Philippine labor officers and diplomats assigned there in exchange for sex.
As a matter of practice, Del Rosario said the repatriation of distressed workers is free as it is shouldered by the Philippine government.
Bello’s revelation came amid a rape case allegedly involving recalled Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Shulan Primavera, which drew condemnation from women’s rights advocates and overseas Filipino labor groups.
A fact-finding unit was established by the DFA to look into Bello’s allegations. The DFA has also set up a hotline dedicated to receive calls from individuals who may have information or have similar complaints related to this issue.
For tips, complaints and information on alleged sex abuses by embassy staff and officers, the public should contact the DFA at 0928-8363756 starting Friday or through e-mail at email@example.com.
Shared information will be treated in confidence and individuals giving the information will be fully protected, Hernandez said.
The DFA has discussed with Department of Labor and Employment officials, led by Undersecretary Danilo Cruz, the need to share information and to link the fact-finding process of the two departments.
“This will be undertaken by assigning a DFA observer in DOLE’s fact-finding team and vice versa,” Hernandez said. - VVP/YA, GMA News
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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