Press Release
August 15, 2013

Villar calls for sweeping reforms in handling
of cases involving distressed OFWs

Senator Cynthia Villar called for sweeping reforms in the labor department's handling of cases involving distressed Filipino workers abroad in light of this morning's revelations during the Senate blue ribbon committee's second hearing on the sex-for-flight issue.

Villar cited the admission of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario that there was a breakdown in the one-country team approach in the case of OFW Grace Sales when Labor Attache Adam Musa failed to immediately inform the head of post about an attempted rape committed inside the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Del Rosario's admission arose after Senator Villar pointed out that while the attempted rape incident took place in August 2012, the labor attache only informed Philippine Ambassador Ezzedin Tago about the incident in October, a clear breach of existing protocols.

Secretary del Rosario said that the one-country team approach means that all of the agencies that are applied to the Post must work as one team under the responsibility and control of the Ambassador as head of post.

Labor Attache Musa explained that he considered the complaint of Grace Sales as an internal matter involving two of his employees. However, the lady senator countered that attempted rape being a crime, the matter should have been considered as a consular rather than a labor concern.

The senator from Las Pinas City expressed dismay that the opportunity for an independent inquiry into the alleged attempted rape by the labor attache's driver was lost because the labor attache did not immediately report the said incident to his ambassador.

Villar also questioned the labor department about its practice of offering lower salary and no benefits to local hires employed by POLO offices in different countries in contrast to the compensation package of the Department of Foreign Affairs. She said that it was wrong to have such a disparity in wages considering that these local hires often work together in one embassy or consulate.

"It is ironic that the labor department which is considered the vanguard of labor rights and welfare offer much lower salaries and fewer or even non-existent benefits to its local hires overseas compared to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Could this be a contributing factor as to why there are more local hires on the DoLE side now under investigation compared to that of the DFA?

"Is this also the reason why Jojo Casicas, the labor attache's driver, kept staying at the Bahay Kalinga for distressed women OFWs, rather than rent his own apartment?" Villar said during the public hearing.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz admitted that there was a discrepancy in pay and benefits between the local hires of the two departments. Secretary Baldoz assured the senators that DoLE would review its local hire system including the pay scale of local hires.

Villar stressed that Jojo Casica's presence in the Bahay Kalinga which should have been exclusively for women, may have led to the commission of crimes such as sexual harassment and attempted rape.

"This peculiar housing arrangement opened the doors to sexual harassment and even attempted rape which is sad because the Bahay Kalinga should live up to its name as a haven of love, care and compassion particularly for abused and maltreated women workers," Villar said.

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