Filipino community hits Bello over sex-for-flight allegations

By Raffy A. Beltran, ABS-CBN Middle East News Bureau

Posted at Jul 23 2013 04:48 PM | Updated as of Jul 24 2013 05:13 PM

AL-KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia (UPDATED) - Filipino Community leaders in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia wrote a very strong resolution letter to Akbayan Party List Representative Walden Bello.

The congressman wrote on the opinion page of the Philippine Daily inquirer an article titled, "Gov’t personnel as pimps, predators and traffickers in Al-Khobar, KSA".

The article was based on statements made by former OFWs complainants who dragged the names of officials of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office Eastern Region Operation (POLO-ERO) in the sex-for-flight scheme in Al-Khobar.

In his article, Bello named the POLO-ERO Officials who allegedly pimped the three Filipina complainants.

"Kaming lahat na mga community dito sa Eastern Province ay sobrang na-disappoint sa mga narinig namin at nabasa sa Inquirer. Dahil para sa amin mga alegasyon lahat yon. Kilala namin ang mga taong involved doon, at hindi namin matatanggap bilang community leaders na pagsalitaan sila ng ganoon," said Mary Jane Tupas, community leader and 2007 Bagong Bayani Awardee.

Bello first disclosed the sex-for-flight scheme in Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait. The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah and the POLO-ERO in Al-Khobar were also subjected to an investigation.

Allegedly, many female runaways were being prostituted in exchange for a plane ticket for their repatriation back to the Philippines.

The Filipino community leaders pointed out that the accusations are unfair and innocent people are being implicated in the mess.

Community Leader and Bagong Bayani 2005 Awardee George Palencia was deeply affected. He personally knows “Ma’am Edith”, one of the names that appeared in the article. He knows her as a very helpful staff of the POLO-ERO.

"Nung dumating ako dito sa Al-Khobar ng 2001 at hindi pa man siya nagta-trabaho sa POLO-OWWA ay kilala ko na ang kanyang pagkatao. At lalo na siya’y isang ina at marami na siyang napagtapos ng pag-aaral. Hindi ako naniniwala sa ganitong alegasyon," said Palencia.

Even places that are frequented by Pinoys like malls, restaurants and Philippine schools are alleged “pick-up points” for prostitution.

Cabalen restaurant manager Ed Nicdao could not believe that his restaurant is being pinpointed as a center for the sex trade.

"Di ko maintindihan kung bakit sinama pa ang Cabalen sa exposè na ito, na wala naman silang basehan," he said.

Now, Filipino community leaders are afraid to go to the places mentioned in the exposè for fear of possible reprisal by local authorities.

The congressman failed to take into consideration the welfare of the more that 400,000 OFWs in the Eastern Region.

Now, most, if not all embassy officials and staff are seldom seen especially on very important gatherings as they are all demoralized.

The community instead challenged Bello as a member of the House of Representative and Chairman of the Committee of Overseas Workers’ Affair to continuously advance the Philippine Government’s services to the OFWs by legislating measure that will uplift their well-being and their welfare.

For his part, Bello thanked community leaders and promised to make their letter "part of the documentation in all proceedings, administrative and criminal, related to the Al Khobar investigation".