Jinggoy to Senate: Pursue sex-for-flight probe

MANILA, Philippines – What about sex-for-flight?

Senator Jinggoy Estrada urged the Senate blue ribbon committee to conclude its investigation into the so-called sex-for-flight scheme, months after opening the probe.

After criticizing the committee over its investigation of the pork barrel scam, Estrada said the panel must not abandon the sex-for-flight issue.

“I would like to call the attention of the blue ribbon committee to continue the hearings on the sex-for-flight issue, or if it does not have [any] intention of pursuing the probe further, I believe we should wrap up the inquiries and release a report soon,” Estrada said in a statement on Friday, April 25.

In the sex-for-flight scheme, embassy and labor officials in the Middle East allegedly promised distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) that they will be prioritized in repatriation in exchange for sexual favors.

The Senate began investigating the controversy in August 2013, but it was overtaken by the probe into the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam. On April 1, the committee released a draft report into the scam recommending plunder charges against Estrada. 

Estrada faces plunder charges for allegedly funneling his pork barrel funds to bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks.     

Still, Estrada said the committee must resolve the sex-for-flight investigation to introduce “remedial measures to existing protection and welfare laws for the overseas Filipino workers.”

Estrada is chairman of the Senate labor committee, which conducted the Senate hearings on the scheme, along with the blue ribbon committee. He also delivered a privilege speech on the sex-for-flight scheme.

The senator said the sex-for-flight case should not suffer at the expense of the pork barrel investigation.

“It can be recalled that the victims surfaced and decried the double standard with respect to the preferential treatment of witnesses in the pork barrel scam in contrast to the attention given to the victims of sexual harassment and sex-for-flight modus who also exposed the illegal activities in the government,” he said.

‘Did DOLE consider evidence?’

Estrada also joined women’s groups in criticizing the decision of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) imposing “lenient penalties” against the concerned labor officials.

“Did the DOLE consider the evidence and testimonies presented before the Senate hearings? I believe that whatever had been disclosed in the Senate proceedings could have been helpful in ferreting out the truth with regard to the sex-for-flight scheme and the accountability of the officers mentioned,” he said.

During the Senate hearings, senators said they found the testimonies of the accused officials hard to believe after hearing from the victims. Senators castigated assistant labor attaché Antonio Villafuerte for using vulgar language in speaking to the victims, and for allegedly sexually abusing them.

Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said then, “At this point, it is clear that there is abuse of authority. There is abuse of women. There is abuse of our fellow Filipinos. Whatever you may call it, it definitely requires strong measures and strong disciplinary action and a revamp of our system of treating our OFWs abroad.”

Yet Estrada noted that the DOLE only found Villafuerte guilty of the “light offense” of sexual harassment for telling “smutty jokes” to victims and gave a penalty of reprimand.

Estrada added that Riyadh Labor attaché Adam Musa got suspension without pay for one month for simple neglect of duty while Acting Labor Attaché Mario Antonio was suspended for 4 months without pay for simple misconduct. 

Women’s group Gabriela had criticized the decisions. Gabriela Representative Emmie de Jesus said the penalties might embolden other labor officials to engage in abusive practices against OFWs. – Rappler.com