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Philippine Labour Attache David Des Dicang (extreme left), talks to head of the probe panel Atty Leah Fortuna (second from left), during the team’s arrival in Kuwait.
Team set to talk to members of Filipino community ‘Sex-for-flight’ probe team in Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY, June 29:  The investigating team created by the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to investigate the alleged sex-for-flight scheme in the Filipino Workers Resource Centre (FWRC) in the Middle East arrived in Kuwait on Saturday to start its probe following the expose of Philippine Akbayan party list Representative Walden Bello to the Philippine media that some embassy and labour officials in the Middle East are allegedly involved in the so-called “sex-for-fly” scheme in which distressed overseas Filipino workers are forced to have sex with them in exchange for a ticket home. Bello accused acting Labor Attachè to Jordan Mario Antonio, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) personnel in Syria Kim Guro and a Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) contractual staff in Kuwait of engaging in sex-for-flight activities.

The probe team headed by Atty Leah Fortuna was welcomed at the Kuwait International Airport by Philippine Labour Attache David Des Dicang, Assistant Labour Attache Florencia Ardivilla and Welfare Officer Norlita Lugtu.  Fortuna along with Atty Ophelia Almernario (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), Atty Rosemarie Duquez (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and Atty Edna Yasay (Department of Foreign Affairs) will look into all these allegations. Fortuna told the Arab Times that the team will gather evidence in Kuwait and will proceed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on July 3 where they will also investigate sex-for-flight scheme complaints filed by some distressed Overseas Filipino Workers against Assistant Labour Attache Antonio Villafuerte. From Saudi Arabia, the team will proceed to Amman, Jordan to conduct another investigation.

The probe team is set to talk to some members of the Filipino community and other resource persons as part of their data gathering. Earlier, the POLO and Philippine Embassy in Kuwait created a five-man investigating panel led by Charge d’ Affaires Atty Raul Dado in response to Bello’s call to probe the reported scheme.  “First of all, I’m really enraged by this thing going on. We immediately put up an investigating panel, five people in it and we welcome the investigation started by Congressman Bello,” said Dado who came back from Manila on Thursday after DFA Secretary Albert Del Rosario ordered all the heads of the Philippine embassies in the Middle East to go home to the Philippines to face the separate investigating panel created by the DFA. Labour Attache Dicang has suspended the POLO contractual staff who Bello named to give way to the investigation.

“When we learned of the news that one of our personnel at POLO is being implicated in this issue, we immediately took action and we temporarily suspended him from services as local hire admin assistant, to give way to the investigation of the case,” said Dicang. He also condemned the reported scheme. He likewise appealed to alleged victims to come out and tell the truth. While no complainant has surfaced to affirm Bello’s allegation against the POLO contractual staff in Kuwait, Antonio in Jordan and Guro in Syria, three distressed HSWs came out in the Philippine media, accusing Assistant Labor AttachÈ to Riyadh Antonio Villafuerte of sexual harassment. One of the workers identified as “Michelle” also claimed that Villafuerte allegedly pimped her to an Egyptian national. But another Filipina worker surfaced and vouched for the good track record and behaviour of Villafuerte as a labor officer and alleged that “Michelle” was lying and that Egyptian national was “Michelle’s” boyfriend.

Villafuerte who denied all the allegations, has been recalled to Manila to face the investigating panel.
Meanwhile, the suspended POLO staff in Kuwait told the Arab Times on Saturday that he is willing to give his statement at the proper time and venue, as soon as Bello comes out with the complainant .He lamented that he has been subjected to trial by publicity that has tarnished his reputation. He challenged Bello to present the complainants in the spirit of fair play and quest for truth. He stressed that that the only way to get to the bottom of all these is to let the complainant out so he can answer the allegations accordingly. He added that he is ready to face the probe team from Manila to clear out his name.
On the other hand, members of the Filipino community have expressed support to the ongoing investigation. The Filipino Association of Secretaries of Employment Agencies (FIL-ASEAK) in Kuwait also called on the lawmaker to let the complainant surface to unravel the truth.

“Amid all these talks and controversies, we all want to know the truth. How true are the allegations of Congressman Bello? What was his basis in naming one of the POLO staff in Kuwait when in fact until now, no victim has come forward if there is any?” pointed out Ann Abunda, the President of the Oragon sa Mga Kuwait. The Filipino community in Kuwait amid the controversial sex-for-flight scheme urged the investigating panel from Manila to be thorough in its investigation and leave no stone unturned. “We just hope this is not just another lip-service. We want the truth to be out and genuine reforms to be instituted in the FWRC. Clear the name of the innocent and punish the guilty,” stressed Violeta Malana Yousef, the President of the Kuwait Filipino Mothers Organization.

By Michelle Fe Santiago
Arab Times Staff

By: Michelle Fe Santiago

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