7:07 pm | Thursday, June 20th, 2013
MANILA—The Department of Foreign Affairs set up Thursday a fact-finding body to investigate alleged sexual exploitation of distressed Filipino workers in at least three Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East as it asked eight more of the country’s ambassadors in the region to come home “for consultations.”
Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario ordered the ambassadors home to discuss the alleged cases and draw up measures to prevent such offenses from occurring in Philippine foreign missions.
The Philippine envoys to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon were summoned a day after Del Rosario called on the ambassadors to Jordan, Syria and Kuwait and officials linked to the alleged prostitution rings to take the next flight home to give their side of the issue.
“To be as thorough as possible in addressing the issue on the alleged sex-related offenses, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has instructed the ambassadors of 11 of our embassies in the Middle East (including the three earlier called home) to come home immediately for consultations and to discuss related issues,” Hernandez said at a news briefing.
“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,” he added.
Hernandez said the envoys in the Middle East, one of the world’s regions with the heaviest Filipino migrant population, would work together in gathering information about the sexual exploitation charges, first aired by Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello on Tuesday.
Citing information from “unimpeachable sources” within the DFA itself, Bello accused at least three officials in the Jordan, Kuwait and Syria embassies of soliciting sexual favors from distressed Filipinos staying in shelters awaiting repatriation to the Philippines and turning some of them into prostitutes.
While admitting that he has not spoken to an actual complainant or visited any of the posts involved, Bello accused embassy personnel, three of whom he identified as being in the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, of running prostitution rings, peddling the Filipino women to foreign clients.
Del Rosario called the charges “disconcerting” but still “hearsay” on Wednesday, following a two-hour conference with Bello. He also urged complainants to come out.
“We need to agree on information dissemmination plans to have a wider reach in order to complete our information regarding this issue,” Hernandez said.
The official said the ambassador will also discuss ways of preventing sexual offenses at Philippine foreign missions.
“We need to share with each other 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 told reporters at the briefing.
Starting Friday, complainants or informants may also contact mobile number 0928 836 3756, DFA’s dedicated hotline for sex-related offenses. The DFA guaranteed confidentiality of all reports to be filed through this number.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer’s Reader’s Advocate. Or write The Readers’ Advocate: