MANILA, Philippines – Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has submitted to President Benigno Aquino III an updated report on the “sex-for-flight” controversy in Philippine labor missions in the Middle East, where she also made recommendations on what the government can do to avoid similar incidents in the future.
In a statement on Wednesday, July 3, Baldoz said the report submitted Tuesday outlined the discussion she had with Aquino and the steps that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has taken since the allegations became public.
Akbayan Rep Walden Bello exposed the scheme in the Middle East last month and said embassy officials there allegedly promised victims they will be prioritized in repatriation in exchange for sexual favors.
“I informed the President that the DOLE fully supports high-level negotiations and political representations by other officials of government that will lead to host countries’ waiving penalties, shortening exit visa application processing, issuance of pardons and amnesty, and police and immigration assistance,” Baldoz said.
The labor chief also said her department is exploring with the Department of Social Welfare and Development the idea of deploying social workers to the Middle East to do counseling and other social welfare work for distressed overseas Filipino workers.
Baldoz said she outlined several corrective measures relative to the controversy.
The first measure was the deployment of mostly female personnel to augment the Philippine overseas labor offices (POLOs) of the 3 countries where the alleged prostitution operations exist. The memorandum dated June 28, 2013, ordered the deployment of 13 female and one male personnel to the POLOs: 9 to Saudi Arabia, 3 to Jordan, and 2 to Kuwait.
The second measure was an “immediate installation" of the Foreign Labor Operations Information System (FLOIS) in all 37 POLOs overseas, with priority given to the Middle East POLOs.
The system will record all POLO transactions and store data, such as the number of wards being accommodated in the migrant workers' centers. The data will be accessible to DOLE, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.
The last measure was the streamlining of the process of recruitment and deployment on the sides of both Saudi and the Philippines. A joint onsite dispute settlement system should be put in place to handle cases, repatriation, and other issues with Saudi's mega-recruitment agencies.
Baldoz said the last measure is pursuant to the bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia on the recruitment and deployment of household service workers.
“The RP-KSA Joint Committee has successfully concluded its meeting on this, including other actionable provisions of the bilateral agreement. In fact, the Saudis have pledged that it will provide a budget to develop the streamlined online system for transparency,” Baldoz explained.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that depending on the results of the probe, the DOJ might have to step in for the filing of appropriate charges against the suspects.
Baldoz said the Aquino instructed her that should a basis be found for the filing of criminal charges against POLO officials, she should coordinate with the Office of the Executive Secretary and the justice secretary.
“I reiterated my earlier statement that no one in the DOLE will be spared if any official or employee is found to have violated our laws after a thorough and impartial investigation,” Baldoz said.
Baldoz disclosed the team she has set up to conduct a probe into the "sex-for-flight" controversy will submit its report on or before July 12, 2013. – Rappler.com