Two stories came out last week in ironic counterpoint to each other.
The first, which came out last Friday, was the US State Department giving the Philippines low marks in controlling human trafficking. “As both a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for sex trafficking and forced labor, the Philippines remained at Tier 2 on the state department’s three-tier ranking system. Despite making significant efforts to combat trafficking, the Philippines does not yet fully comply with the minimum standards for (its) elimination.”
The report noted the failure of the judicial system to punish the culprits, sometimes even being an obstacle to it. It noted as well the “serious problem” of cyber pornography, often involving children.
The second story, which came out earlier in the week, was Rep. Walden Bello exposing a flourishing sex trade in several of our embassies in the Middle East. In a press conference, he accused three officials, two from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Polo) whom he named, and one from the Department of Foreign Affairs, of conducting a “sex-for-flight” racket. It involved getting distressed women workers, or those who had fled their abusive masters and sought refuge in Philippine embassies, to agree to sell their bodies for a flight home.
Bello identified Mario Antonio and Blas Marquez, both of Polo, as sellers and the DFA official as buyer. The last was caught, well, with his pants down in the Philippine Embassy in Damascus. But the buyers are mostly locals, Bello depicting the Philippine officials as pimping for the women in the shelters, charging as much as $1,000 per night. They operate in Jordan, Kuwait and Syria, but Bello suggests other officials in other Middle East countries could be involved. Indeed, he suggests that other officials at home, in the labor and foreign affairs departments, could be involved as well.
Ascertaining it is imperative and should get no small prodding from things like Jinggoy Estrada threatening to reduce the labor and foreign affairs department budget to P1 if they do not do so posthaste. But it’s no small irony, and source of outrage, to learn that human trafficking in the Philippines is not just happening in the fringes of society but right at the core of it. It’s not just happening in the shadowy underworld but in the glare of well-lit embassies. It’s not just being committed by suspected predators, it’s being perpetrated by the very people sworn to protect the helpless abroad.
Antonio of course has denied it, and his character has been attested to by Owwa (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) head Carmelita Dimzon. He says the effort to besmirch his good name comes from illegal recruiters whose toes he has stepped on in his own efforts to stop them. He hasn’t named the illegal recruiters or told of the steps he has taken to stop them. Bello himself calls him a brazen liar for saying so and vows to pile more dirt to bury him under if he continues to lie through his teeth. I hope he does.
Though as it stands now, even if it’s just his word against Bello, the latter is hands down the more believable. Bello did not write all his books about the global situation, getting no small amount of recognition from the international academic community, doing sloppy research. I’ve always thought he was the most overqualified congressman in this country. Hell, I’ve always thought he’d be the most overqualified senator in this country if he ever got to be one.
The crime is heinous anyway you look at it.
The OFWs are our lifeblood. You take them away and this country will collapse overnight. The OFWs in the Middle East may not be the biggest contributor of remittances—the honor belongs to Filipinos in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, who accounted for about 55 percent of them as of January this year; the OFWs in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, the biggest remitters from the Middle East, accounted for only 12 percent—but they represent the poor. They give employment to the poor. They prevent the magma in the social volcano from roiling and spewing fire.
You see how desperate they are when they sell their carabaos and their belongings and get into debt to become OFWs. You see how desperate they are when they risk the lures of illegal recruiters and plunge eyes closed into them, braving fine and jail from being discovered at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to be carrying forged documents and the even bigger dangers from it when they get to where they are going.
Indeed, you see how desperate they are when women abandon themselves to the dubious care of unknown employers in lands that do not treat women and men equally, that treat women as inferiors, that treat women like property. It is an invitation to disaster, which disaster often accepts, as you see from the number of rapes that happen. And which the migrant organizations say are underreported, the victims feeling nothing will come out of reporting them anyway. As you can see from the mind-boggling incidence of mental breakdowns, not including depression and heart-rending homesickness.
And after the women have escaped maltreatment, if not beatings and rape, from unscrupulous employers and found their way to our shelters, you treat them this way? And after the women have ended up with nothing to show for their ordeal, no money to send home, no means to go home, no future to look forward to, you prey on them some more? And after the women have found refuge in the very thing their labors have helped to build, whose protection is owed them by every law of heaven and earth, you rape them some more? You rape them twice over? You rape them again and again? Where there is crime, there must be punishment.
Where there’s heinous crime, there must be grievous punishment.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.