The Philippines government is investigating allegations of sexual abuse of migrant workers awaiting repatriation at its embassy in Riyadh.
Three unnamed Filipino females, who were staying at temporary shelters in the Saudi capital, all claim that they were molested and asked to perform sexual favours in return for repatriation and plane tickets back to their home country.
"Certain allegations were confirmed and this was accomplished by the three witnesses from Riyadh coming forward and providing us their testimony," Albert Del Rosario, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary for the Philippines, said during a press briefing.
Antonio Villafuerte, an assistant labour attaché at the Filipino Embassy in the Saudi capital, has been recalled to Manila to face an inquiry over the allegations.
The Philippines government has said that its Foreign Affairs Agency is responsible for bearing the cost of repatriating overseas nationals in distress, and reiterated that embassy officials cannot use this as leverage to exploit vulnerable workers.
"What we don't understand is, why there is exploitation happening in terms of getting the tickets, because the tickets are, in one way or another, guaranteed," Mr Del Rosario added. “However, until such time as other people are able to come forward, all other allegations will remain as allegations to be further investigated."
Last week, the chair of the Philippines government’s committee on overseas workers’ affairs Walden Bello claimed that Filipino officials in embassies in Jordan, Kuwait and Syria had formed prostitution rings that involved distressed overseas workers. He claimed that wealthy businessmen in these countries were paying embassies up to $1,000 per night for sexual services from stranded Filipinos.
“The bottom line here is abusive embassy and consulate officials are taking advantage of the desperation of overseas Filipino workers. The further exploitation of the exploited,” said Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International, a group that lobbies on behalf of Filipino migrants.
“This is not an isolated matter that has nothing to do with the overall condition of stranded OFWs seeking immediate repatriation from the PH government in light of the crackdowns.”
Martinez said that the ‘sex-for-ticket’ scandal highlighted the plight of distressed overseas Filipino workers, of which he claimed only 200 had been repatriated since the start of the month.
“[President Benigno Aquino’s] administration and concerned government agencies should put the issue in this context and not simply sensationalise or use the issue to divert government accountability in the slow repatriation of stranded [overseas workers] in light of the crackdowns,” Martinez added.