MANILA – A group of distressed overseas Filipino workers from Kuwait had sought the help of a palace official as they could not rely on the assistance that was supposed to be extended to them by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait.
"Na-realize ko po na mayroon talagang trend. These were not isolated cases," Assistant Secretary Lila Ramos-Shahani of the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster, told DZMM.
Shahani said that from two, the OFWs who asked for her immediate help had ballooned into 50.
"I just want to say I ended up with 50 victims because ang nangyari, yung unang biktima ikwenento niya sa iba na siguro pwede akong pagkatiwalaan, at sinabi ko naman po you should go to the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) but sabi nila kung di kami pwedeng magsumbong sa inyo di na lang kami magsusumbong," she said.
The OFWs were victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse from their respective employers and were also neglected by embassy personnel.
Shahani said the two OFWs from Kuwait whom she assisted were "K" and "J". Their cases were both handled by the head of the Assistance to National Unit (ATNU), Ibrahim Jack Tanandato.
"Ang point ko lang po is that yung nilapitan ng 10 na biktima na hawak ko ay si Jack Tanandato, head ng ATNU. Most of them ended up with very tragic stories as a result," she said.
Shahani said she met "K" through a common friend on social networking site, Facebook. The common friend had asked for her assistance to help "K" who was repeatedly abused by her employer.
After several messages on Facebook, Shahani said she wrote a letter to then Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Shulan Primavera to look into "K's" case.
"Sinulatan ko po and I said, 'Could you please see if this case warrants investigation'. Ganun lang. Kasi yung biktima, she was threatened with sodomy and rape so often that she jumped out of a car in the middle of the Kuwait desert," she said.
When he replied, it was to let her know that the victim was 'perfectly fine' and that they've also talked with her recruiter who in turn told them not to doubt them.
"Ang nakakapagtaka po, wala akong interest sa recruiter. Ang tinatanong ko lang po kung kamusta yung kababayan. The strange thing, habang sinasabi ng ambassador na ok yung biktima, sinusulatan ako ng biktima na binugbog na naman siya," she said.
For about four months, Shahani said she continued writing letters to concerned government agencies until the OFW was finally extracted from her employer's home.
"What I found strange was that the embassy made her rewrite her affidavit four times," she said. The embassy wanted the OFW to omit the details about the abuse and remove the names of her recruiters.
"Nung nalaman ko na pina-rewrite siya, talagang nag red alert na utak ko na something is wrong," Shahani said who is also the daughter of senator and former diplomat, Leticia Ramos-Shahani .
It was through "K" that "J" got to know about Shahani. They relied on her as their distrust with the embassy grew.
"Yung humawak ng kaso ko si Assistance to Nationals Unit Jack Tanandato," she said.
"J" was maltreated in 2011. The worst part was when her employer inserted a bread knife into her vagina and doused it a liquid bleaching product. She was also beaten everyday by the family of her female employer.
Shahani said that of the total number of victims she's been helping, 20 have decided to still work abroad, with many in Kuwait. Those repatriated were brought to the DSWD and have been brought to a doctor and psychologist.
"But I'm in touch with all of them," she said.
Primavera and Tanandato have been recalled by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
A task force probing the cases of abuse against OFWs in Kuwait submitted its report to the Department of Justice.
Shahani said they have filed a case against Tanandato.
"I made absolutely sure na kasama siya sa kinasuhan. I have nine affidavits against him," she said.