“We will be filing the appropriate charges against the perpetrators, as well as top officials for their complicity and tolerance of these abuses. Labor Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz has a lot of explaining to do.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Twenty-eight-year-old Angel, not her real name, considers her case as the worst. She was raped by her employer, forcing her to flee and become one of the thousands of undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia. But her horrible experience did not end with her escape. She did not expect the treatment she got from a Philippine embassy official.
“He did not even ask me how I was doing. He asked where I was hit by my employer; if I had good sex and if my employer’s penis was big,” Angel said in an interview.
Angel was referring to assistant labor attaché to Saudi Arabia Antonio Villafuerte. Villafuerte has been implicated in the sex-for-fly scandal after Angel and two other victims Michelle and Annaliza accused him of making verbal sexual advances and for offering “part time work” so they could earn the money for their tickets to go back to Manila.
Villafuerte denied these allegations in television interviews.
The Philippine government, through the Department of Labor and Employment, is investigating the alleged sex-for-fly scheme happening in its shelters for overseas Filipino workers in distress. In an ABS-CBN news report, the DOLE said it would send a representative to Kuwait, Riyadh and in Jordan to validate the information they received here in the country.
The team is expected to report to Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz on July 15, 2013.
“I was very excited to go abroad. But I did not know it would be such a Calvary. I did not experience that kind of hardship here,” Angel said.
Rape, harrowing tales
Angel left the country last March 28, 2013. She was promised work as domestic helper with a salary of 1,000 riyals or roughly $238 with one rest day every week. These, she added, were all stipulated in her contract but none of it came true.
She only received $190. But her female employer, after giving her salary, took it again and even grabbed her bag to get it back. She cleaned the house and washed dishes and clothes not for one but three households.
“There were lots of people (I was working for),” Angel said. As a result, she started her workday at around 6:00 a.m. and finished at 1 a.m.
Worse, Angel was sexually abused by her male employer twice. She was forced to perform oral sex on him while a knife was pointed at her neck. Then, he was eventually raped by her employer.
“I didn’t want to die there. I have two sons here, aged 7 and 8. So I followed what he said,” Angel said.
This made her decide to flee from her employer. She went to a clinic where she first met Villafuerte. Instead of asking how she was doing, Angel said, the embassy official made the offending remarks.
Villafuerte, she said, repeated the offending remarks even when they were already in the Philippine embassy office in Riyadh.
“I did not expect that he would turn out to be such an animal. He looks very respectable on the outside but he is very disrespectful. Too bad he is an employee of our own country,” Angel said.
Thirty-eight-year-old Annaliza, whom Angel met at the Philippine government-run shelter Bahay Kalinga, said that she, too, experienced being asked offending questions by Villafuerte.
Annaliza escaped from her employer because of her oppressive working conditions. “My employer couple was good to me during my first week. My Calvary with my female employer began on my second week.”
Before leaving for Saudi Arabia, Annaliza was told that she was going to work as a domestic helper, with 13 others, for a princess in her receiving country and that she was going to work as a baby sitter. But this did not happen. She was the only domestic helper in the big house she described as a mansion.
“They told me to clean all the eight big rooms in 30 minutes,” she said.
When Annaliza did not finish the task, there was an instance when she was locked up for two days without food. She was brought to the hospital. “My female employer was impatient. She asked a Filipino nurse to make her dextrose drip faster.”
Annaliza said she expected that her employer would allow her to rest right after leaving the hospital. But when they returned home, she said, she was made to do household chores right away. This made her decide to leave her employer.
Two more victims
Annaliza said her escape from her employer’s house was very traumatic. She was almost raped by a taxi driver who brought him to the desert.
“I told him I am a Muslim and that sex with strangers is not allowed. But he replied that sex is what men and women were made to do. I cried hard. When we reached the desert, the taxi driver hit his head on the steering wheel and drove back to the Philippine embassy,” she said.
When she first saw Villafuerte, Annaliza said, he looked like a good person. He asked Annaliza if she was a “TNT” (tago ng tago in Filipino) or an illegal. “I did not know what it meant. Later on, I found out that TNTs are perceived as rich,” she said.
On their way to the Bahay Kalinga, Annaliza said, Villafuerte asked her if she was ever a victim of sexual abuse. “If not, he said, he would do it to me.”
During her stay in Bahay Kalinga, she related that she received a call from a man who introduced himself as Muhammad. “The caller said he would give me a sideline. I should just go to POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office),” she said, “I was told, ‘One night stand for your ticket.’ I did not go there.”
Annaliza said only Villafuerte knew her cellphone number.
On top of this, Annaliza said, Villafuerte did not process her repatriation. After her meeting with the owner of the agency, she was told that they were going to send her ticket to Manila. She did not receive any. She was repatriated last May 26 only after she went to her agency to demand for her ticket. But she was told that they sent her ticket already. It seems, she added, that Villafuerte was blocking her repatriation.
Michelle, 39, also an overseas Filipino worker in distress, said Villafuerte tried to make her have sex with his Egyptian friend.
Michelle was supposed to work as a beautician. But when she arrived in Saudi Arabia, she learned that the beauty parlor she was supposed to work for was not yet open. Her employer, instead, told her to work as a resident beautician for their family. Michelle agreed.
She was made to work until late at night. Her employer gave her bad rice. “I am a Filipino. I am familiar with rice. They have vegetables. But we only ate leftovers. I asked Muhammad (her employer) if I could have money to buy food,” she said, but to no avail.
Fifteen days later, another beautician arrived at her employer’s house. She tried to befriend her but, Michelle said, the other beautician bossed her around, which eventually led to a fight. On her 20th day, she escaped from her employer.
The POLO office was closed when she arrived. But a certain Ma’am Lita gave her Villafuerte’s cellphone number. When she was finally able to contact Villafuerte, she was brought to Bahay Kalinga. Villafuerte tried to mediate between Michelle and her employer who was trying to get her back. But Michelle was determined not to go back.
During these negotiations, Michelle met Villafuerte’s Egyptian friend. Then, Villafuerte, she said, told her to go with the Egyptian to buy her ticket. She refused.
On May 17, 2013, Michelle phoned Villafuerte because she was able to contact her former employer who offered to return her belongings. But she was told that when they reach the POLO office, they were to pretend that that they were going back to Bahay Kalinga. They would, however, go to Villafuerte’s place. “He asked me if I was fertile and when my last menstruation was,” she said.
The following day, upon arriving at the POLO office, Michelle said, Villafuerte grabbed her and forcibly kissed her. He also touched her breast. She added that he was about to lift her abaya (clothes) when she ran away from him. Fortunately, she said someone, another Filipino in distress, saw what happened. He would be her witness, Michelle added.
While it was Villafuerte’s Egyptian friend who bought her ticket, Michelle clarified that he is not her boyfriend. She said she heard reports that a certain Irene, an OFW residing at Bahay Kalinga, claimed in radio interviews that Villafuerte’s Egyptian friend is Michelle’s boyfriend and that she (Michelle) was just out to destroy Villafuerte’s reputation.
Michelle said they knew Irene and that she used to be complaining about Villafuerte too. They were surprised and saddened by Irene’s seeming sudden turnaround. “Why are those people lying?” she asked.
In a protest action in front of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration last June 28, Migrante International said the government should immediately recall, investigate and prosecute all officials who are involved in the sex-for-fly scandal and other abuses against OFWs.
Connie Bragas-Regalado said there is a need to conduct a “comprehensive, independent investigation of all forms of abuses, exploitation and government neglect of stranded OFWs, especially in the light of the impending crackdown.”
Undocumented migrant workers are expected to be out of Saudi Arabia last July 3. Out of the thousands of stranded overseas Filipino workers in Saudi, who mostly ran away from their abusive employers, Migrante International said, only a handful have been repatriated.
Regalado added that their group is demanding for comprehensive justice for the victims of erring officials. All officials involved, from top to bottom, should be punished, she said.
“We are currently processing all information that we have from victims who have surfaced and approached us. We will be filing the appropriate charges against the perpetrators, as well as top officials for their complicity and tolerance of these abuses. Sec. Baldoz has a lot of explaining to do,” Regalado said.
Embassy officials like Villafuerte, Angel said, has no place in government service. “He does not deserve his post.”
Angel said she is hoping that the investigation will be fair, especially for people like her who do not have connections with the government. “We should be treated as equals in this fight,” she added.