This is not the first time reports of the exploitation of female overseas Filipino workers in distress have surfaced. Nor is this the first time that the accused culprits have been identified as Filipino diplomats or staffers of government-sponsored centers meant to offer assistance, counseling and/or protection to workers in trouble. Also not new is the locale—our embassies and welfare offices in the Middle East—although I suppose the reported abuse also occurs in diplomatic postings elsewhere.
What did surprise me was the realization that many years after the abuse and exploitation of women OFWs were reported, nothing has apparently been done. And that this time around, the racket has gained a catchy, media-genic tag line: the “sex-for-flight” racket, meaning the grant of sexual favors (or involvement in prostitution) in exchange for repatriation to the Philippines.
Certainly new this time around is the denunciation of the racket on the House floor by Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, who named the diplomats allegedly involved in the exploitation of workers as “Predators One, Two and Three.” Also unprecedented was the sight of Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario walking down the corridors of the House to visit Bello in order to discuss the accusations he aired. And then there is the testimony of labor officer in Jordan Mario Antonio—given to reporters if not to his superiors—that the accusations against him were the handiwork of illegal recruiters “making up” the stories to get back at him for his crackdown on their criminal activities.
* * *
Politicians have not lost time in boarding the bandwagon, denouncing the exploitation of female OFWs in trouble and calling for an inquiry into the involvement of diplomats or labor officers.
It’s hoped that with Secretary Del Rosario getting personally involved, along with Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz who promised “no whitewash” in the probe, and even Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief Carmelita Dimzon speaking out, this time the matter will not just be investigated but will result in concrete action.
I think everyone should hang their head in shame over this scandal. When women workers, distressed by abuse they say they have suffered at the hands of their employers, run to our embassies for succor, the last thing they would expect is even more abuse and exploitation from the very people tasked to help and protect them. What moral ascendancy can our government assert on foreign states if our own diplomats exploit our women?
One suggestion, not exactly novel or revolutionary, is to hire more women as labor officers to deal with women workers seeking aid and relief. This, if only to preclude possible sexual harassment, rape or pimping of these women by male diplomats. Has this policy been studied or implemented at all? Are male worker-welfare officers all that necessary or preferable? At least for the embassies and centers in Jordan, Kuwait and Syria—where the latest reports have surfaced—can’t the labor and foreign affairs departments agree to send posthaste female worker-welfare officers to deal with the women seeking asylum there?
* * *
Recently, Pagcor chair and CEO Cristino “Bong” Naguiat Jr. shared good news with a group of women journalists.
At the “GOCC Dividends Day” in Malacañang, Pagcor, the government’s sole authority over casino operations in the country, turned over more than P7.5 billion to President Aquino. Pagcor was among the eight government-owned and -controlled corporations counted among the “Billionaire’s Club,” meaning, they each turned over at least P1 billion to the national treasury.
The amount turned over to the government is aside from the amount devoted by Pagcor to “high impact” projects geared, so Pagcor says, “toward the improvement of the welfare of the Filipino youth.” So far, says a Pagcor press release, it has allocated P3 billion for building thousands of classrooms in public schools nationwide, provided P100 million in funding for the “Pinoy Bayanihan” project, and P20 million for the “Kasibulan” grassroots football program.
A school building built with the help of Pagcor funds in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, is an impressive sight: The building looks, not just spanking new, but also large and substantive, certainly not what one would expect in a rural setting. It’s also good to know that priority for the school building project is being given to calamity-stricken areas, especially in Northern Mindanao severely affected by Tropical Storm “Sendong.”
* * *
And neither is do-gooding limited to government entities. Recently over lunch, Peter Musngi, who has just retired as head of dzMM, the AM radio station of ABS-CBN, talked about their “TLC (Teaching, Learning, Caring)” program. The program, he says, was born of his concerns about the need for “a sustained public service program” for the various communities they serve.
Using funds “left over” from donations made in the wake of the “Ondoy” floods, the station continues to provide free shower facilities (inside a used delivery container) to disaster areas, says Musngi. They have also been involved for the last two years in providing “clinics on wheels” and “classrooms on wheels” for underserved communities, including the parenting sessions for the parents of the children served.
But what keeps him excited these days, Musngi says, is his work with ABS-CBN sports, whose coverage of the NBA championships, for one, has been responsible for turning this basketball-crazy country madder for the NBA.