Migrante International today called on the Philippine government to urgently act on complaints from stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Riyadh complaining of harassment and threats from Assistance Labor Attache Antonio Villafuerte.
Villafuerte is one of the POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office) officers who was linked as one of the perpetrators in the sex-for-flight scheme. He was pinpointed by “Rochelle”, an OFW victim, as the POLO officer who sexually abused her.
According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, they received reports from Migrante-Riyadh that Villafuerte, upon learning of new reports linking him to the sex-for-flight scheme, allegedly proceeded to harass distressed OFWs stranded inside the Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh.
Last June 24, 10:00am KSA time, Villafuerte reportedly went to the Bahay Kalinga and forced the women OFWs there to sign an affidavit refuting allegations against him. The affidavit also reportedly stated that “Rochelle” is only out to discredit him.
Out of fear and their desire to be urgently repatriated, the OFWs were forced to sign the affidavit. The women OFWs then immediately reported the incident to Migrante-Riyadh.
“They were forced to sign under duress. The women OFWs are desperate to return home before the July 3 deadline. They know fully well that no one can leave the Bahay Kalinga without a request from Villafuerte. They reported this immediately to us because they know ‘Rochelle’ and they know that what she is saying is the truth,” Martinez said.
Martinez called on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to immediately recall Villafuerte to prevent him for further threatening and harassing the distressed OFWs. “Hanggat nandoon si Villafuerte sa Bahay Kalinga, OFWs will be discouraged from exposing abuses and exploitation. Who knows what else he is capable of doing to prevent our OFWs from speaking out.”
Baldoz is lying
Martinez also criticized DOLE Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz for “lying about their knowledge about the sexual abuses.” Baldoz said in news reports that it is the first time that they heard of any sexual exploitation by POLO officials.
According to Martinez, last August 23, 2012, they brought to the DOLE and OWWA’s attention the case of Grace Sales, an OFW victim of attempted rape and sexual molestation by Jojo Casicas, the driver of Labor Attache Adam Musa. He also said that they also reported the incident to Saudi Ambassador Ezzedin TAgo.
Sales had recently appeared in news interviews since the sex-for-flight scheme gained media attention.
“Ngayon lang siya lumabas sa media pagkauwi niya but she filed complaints against the driver since last year. The complaints were addressed to Tago, Musa, OWWA Admin. Dimzon and Baldoz but no actions were taken against the driver. Whitewash pa nga ang nangyari.”
Martinez said that Sales, in her sworn affidavit, stated that Musa even offered to give her 10,000 Saudi riyals in exchange for her silence and withdrawal of her complaint. She said that she feared for her well-being and status in Saudi as a distressed OFW in the shelter.
The migrant leader said that they are presently “processing” and gathering all pertinent information and documents from victims who have recently approached their office as a result of the sex-for-flight expose. “They will talk and surface at the right time. We are ensuring that all their testimonies are in place to aid in any investigation. Ayaw natin ng basta-basta hearsay lang because this is a very serious matter.”
Martinez reiterated their group’s view that the sex-for-flight issue is an exploitation borne out of the Philippine government’s neglect and failure to address the plight of stranded OFWs, especially in light of the ongoing crackdowns in the Middle East.
Martinez said that they support calls by progressive partylists Bayan Muna and Gabriela for a “comprehensive and independent investigation of all forms of abuses and exploitation against stranded OFWs in light of the crackdowns in the Middle East.” ###