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Philippines to probe embassy staff linked to sexual abuses


08:30, June 20, 2013

MANILA, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Philippine Foreign affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday the department will investigate allegations that some embassy staff in the Middle East are sexually abusing distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Del Rosario ordered the accused embassy staff to return to Manila to face the investigations. He also asked the heads of the diplomatic posts in Kuwait, Syria and Jordan to come back and help with the investigation.

"I will be overseeing (the investigation) to make sure there's transparency, objectivity and comprehensiveness. I would like it done as expeditiously as possible," del Rosario said in a press briefing.

Del Rosario made this statement a day after Akbayan Representative Walden Bello revealed that three embassy staff were sexually abusing and prostituting OFWs. Bello branded these embassy staff as "predators": Mario Antonio, the assistant labor attach in Jordan; Blas Marquez, an employee of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait; and a certain "Kim," who is a member of the Augmentation Team of the Philippine embassy in Damascus.

Del Rosario found this allegation "disconcerting."

"The reports (of sexual abuse), if true, can be considered as criminal. At the very least, they are violations of our Code of Conduct and (the embassy staff) subject to disciplinary measures," he said.

Del Rosario met up with Bello Wednesday morning to discuss these allegations. He said that he thanked Bello for bringing this issue to the fore and they agreed to collate information to investigate this further.

He also encouraged the abused OFWs to approach the foreign affairs department and file a complaint.

"We assure their (victims) safety and we welcome their ( decision) to step forward," he said.

A statement issued by Filipino migrant rights group MIGRANTE said OFWs who were victims of sexual advances and abuses by some embassy staff were willing to testify if authorities will provide security.

"An OFW victim along with two others conveyed to us that they will issue an affidavit and will file a complaint if Philippine authorities could assure their safety and provide security upon return to the Philippines," said MIGRANTE Vice Chairman John Leonard Monterona.

Monterona said his group welcomed the calls to probe the sexual abuses allegation, noting that such abuses have been occurring for the past few years.

"This is not new as we have been reporting this years ago about Philippine officials who are taking advantage of the distressed women OFWs at Philippine halfway shelter by pimping the latter in exchange for money so that they can buy airplane tickets for their repatriation," he said.

Monterona added sexual advances and abuses among distressed women OFWs by embassy and labor officials especially in the Middle East have been a common knowledge among Filipino communities.

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