MANILA – An official of the Department of Justice fact-finding team on Wednesday told a House panel that high-ranking officers who are allegedly involved in human trafficking and abuse cases in Kuwait are not yet off the hook.
This even as the same team only recommended criminal charges against three low-ranking personnel for the scheme, where many Filipina overseas workers were supposedly sexually abused in exchange for return trips to the Philippines.
At the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs hearing, the team explained why only three were recommended for criminal prosecution in connection with the sex-for-flight cases in Kuwait.
DOJ Assistant City Prosecutor Darlene Pajarito said only Ibrahim Dalidig "Jack" Tanandato of the Assistance To Nationals Unit, and local hires Muamar Mamosion and Omar Khalil, along with Kuwaiti lawyers, were recommended for criminal prosecution because there was no further evidence against higher-ups.
Pajarito explained the three may be held liable for violating the anti-human trafficking law, as well as the anti-graft and corrupt practices act, and the code of ethics for public officers.
Kuwaiti lawyers hired by the embassy, Khaled Almas and Ayied Al-Subaje, were also recommended to be charged for violation of Republic Acts 6713 and 3019. Others that were recommended for criminal prosecution are recruiters Wilfredo Palomar, Mariam Macapudi and Dolores Suarez (violation of RA 8042).
Pajarito explained to the panel that the task force's main function is fact-finding, and that the case has now been forwarded to the Task Forces on human trafficking and illegal recruitment for further action.
She explained that they did not delve into the administrative liability of the personnel since that is the jurisdiction of the agencies.
"These are more on the criminal aspect. As to the administrative matter, we didn't send subpoena because DOJ doesn't embark on administrative investigations," she said.
Committee Chairman Walden Bello said they don't want only low-level officials to take the blame for the criminal actions.
"There were names mentioned by complainants, my apology if I cannot mention them right now. We're still conducting further investigation," she said.
Pajarito said they are supposed to submit a final report to the DOJ on February 28.
Office of the President Assistant Secretary Lila Shahani expressed her disappointment over the team's findings. Shahani took up the cudgels for the complainants.
"I've seen the report. It was shown to me. Had I not read and seen and talked to so many victims, if their stories had not shaken me to the core, I'd never had acted on it. I think the report is good but I found it surprising, only low-ranking officials and personnel are going to be charged. I don't understand why the ambassador and vice consuls remain pending for further investigation despite the evidence," she said.
Shahani further urged prosecutors to locate respondents who have not responded to subpoenas. But Pajarito replied that some of those they sent subpoenas could not be found.
She also told the panel that as far as the higher-ups are concerned, the team is still trying to establish conspiracy, which must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
The DOJ previously maintained that as many as 25 other individuals and 12 recruitment agencies mentioned in sworn statements that still require further investigation. Only 15 of the 29 complainants submitted sworn statements.
In a nutshell, according to a DOJ press release, the complainants alleged in their sworn affidavits:
- that a government official hired them to work as domestic helpers with a salary of only 50 Kuwaiti Dinar a month, and without any proper documentation from POLO-OWWA;
- that with abuse of power and position, the same government official took advantage of one of the victims by deceiving her that her backwages have not been paid yet by her previous employer;
- that the Embassy-hired lawyers, together with the Embassy-hired contractuals and government officials, demanded money from the complainants as Attorney's fees; and
- that a government official and an Embassy-hired lawyer advised and insisted that she settles her case in exchange of money.
Two of the complainants also alleged that they were recruited as handlers of K-9 bomb sniffing dog with a monthly salary of P30,000 to P35,000. One of the complainants paid P10,000 to one of the respondents as training fee, and P23,000, purportedly, for the immigration officer. However, upon arrival in Kuwait, they were made to sign a document with a salary of only 110 KD per month.
Other respondents whose criminal cases for syndicated illegal recruitment were already forwarded to the Office of the City Prosecutor of the City of Manila are:
- Amor Decepeda (employee of Ascend International Services, Manila Branch);
- Nora Pilpa Sevillano (employee of Ascend International Services, Tacloban Branch);
- Regina Padiernos (employee of Ascend International Services, Manila Branch);
- Leojane "Fatima" Tacang (Secretary of Suad Alderbas Manpower Recruitment Office, the counterpart agency of Ascend International Services); and
- Perceveranda "Percy" Piranda (participated in recruitment to Kuwait, referred a complainant to another employer after first two employers abused her services).