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‘Sex for fly’ allegation raises call anew for creation of department of OFWs

The “sex for fly” scandal has made the proposed creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers even more urgent, a senator said on Tuesday.

Sen. Manny Villar made the statement at the Kapihan sa Senado, when asked about the sexual harassment of some distressed OFWs in the Middle East by some officials of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office.

Villar said he had pushed for the creation of the government agency in the 15th Congress, and it would be pursued anew by his wife, Sen.-elect Cynthia Villar, in the 16th Congress.

The senator said that while there are other government agencies that look after the welfare and protection of OFWs, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) have their own specific mandates and are not wholly focused on the sector.

“We want just one department to focus on that. The primary mandate of that department would be the OFWs,” Villar said.

He said that while the proposed measure did not prosper in the 15th Congress, he remained hopeful that it would be supported by other lawmakers in both houses of Congress in the 16th Congress.

When asked, Villar said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) can be one of several agencies to be placed under the supervision of the proposed Department of OFWs so that programs and actions on OFW-related issues would be “coordinated.”

The outgoing senator said the Villar Foundation would be willing to provide assistance to victims and witnesses in connection with the scandal, so that the culprits can be put behind bars.

“That’s what I want to happen, I want someone to go to jail. If we do not address this problem and fail to set an example, this problem might get worse,” he said.

Villar said he has been hearing about the alleged scandal for the last 10 years from OFWs and officials, but he could not do anything about the information because he could not find anyone willing to testify and present evidence.

“The problem in speaking out on this is it would not be fair to the officials concerned because they would be accused and suspected [of wrongdoing] without any evidence or witnesses,” he said.

NGO, DSWD involvement sought

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center on Tuesday joined the call for a “deeper” and “wider” investigation into the alleged “sex for fly” complaints against certain embassy personnel in the Middle East posts.

The investigation, she added, should include at least two representatives from civil society and a social worker from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said, along with a group of civil-society leaders and well-known OFW advocates, she will send a formal letter of request addressed to the secretaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs and DOLE  to push for nongovernmental organization (NGO) and the DSWD involvement in the probe.

Ople added that the investigation should include all forms of sexual exploitation, including sexual harassment, by embassy personnel.

Moreover, she said regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the government should formulate a more gender-sensitive, professional and developmental approach to shelter management and OFW services.

“We believe that the sex-for-fly allegations should lead to a wider probe into the kind of services and assistance that distressed overseas workers, particularly the women, receive from our embassies and consulate while they seek refuge in welfare centers. For example, upon sharing their stories of abuse and maltreatment, how many were actually offered legal assistance by our consular officers? We need to also determine how many embassy personnel in various countries actually ‘dated’ or ‘invited out’ these woman-victims despite the traumatic circumstances that led them to these shelters?” OFW advocate Jun Aguilar of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Group said.

Ople, who is still in the US as part of the US State Department’s international visitors’ leadership program, said more OFW victims will likely come out when they see that the NGOs are represented in the panel, and that the agenda of the probe is more far-reaching than it is now.

The group of OFW advocates and civil-society leaders are also discussing the possibility of having a coalition of NGOs look into the conditions faced by abused women in embassy premises, including shelters run by the OWWA.

“If our request is turned down then we would have to discuss among ourselves the possibility of having our own inquiry with the representatives of the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the departments of Foreign Affairs, Justice and DSWD present as observers. The NGO report will be submitted to the heads of these agencies and to the OVP and the Office of the President, with an executive summary to be made available to members of the media,” Ople said.

(With a report from Jonathan L. Mayuga)

 

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