MANILA — Sen. Robin Padilla on Wednesday pushed for harsher punishments against Philippine ambassadors and diplomatic personnel who sexually abuse Filipino migrant workers, saying such act is a "betrayal of their oath."
During the first hearing of the newly-created Senate Committee on Migrant Workers, Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Susan "Toots" Ople shared the case of one overseas Filipino worker (OFW) sexually abused by an ambassador in Kuwait over a decade ago.
Ople said her NGO assisted the OFW in filing the complaint against the ambassador. The complaint was only resolved a month ago, she said, with the now-retired ambassador slapped with just a fine.
Ople said the case was only filed before the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Padilla was "angered" after learning of the incident.
"Sana po magkaroon tayo talaga ng ngipin sa mga ganitong pangyayari. Ang hirap tanggapin talaga. Nahirapan akong tanggapin. Ambassador ka, ikaw ang tatay sa lugar na 'yan. Tapos ikaw ang unang-una [babastos], nasa shelter pa ang tao?" he said.
(I hope we can give teeth to our laws on such cases. It is so hard to accept that these happen. An ambassador is the father of Filipinos in the host country, yet he commits such offenses, right in the OFW shelter?)
Padilla proposed the revival of the case in order to punish the ambassador.
"Kung buhay pa ang kaso, baka pupuwedeng habulin pa po natin at siguro po puwede na nating bitayin," said the senator.
Committee chairman Raffy Tulfo ordered the Secretariat to strike off Padilla’s remarks from Senate records.
Tulfo then said that pursuing the case can be done if the statute of limitations allows it. "That's a good point raised by Sen. Padilla."
Ople suggested that the anti-sexual harassment law be revisited to cover diplomatic and overseas personnel and make them accountable.
"Basta Filipino na personnel ng gobyerno natin abroad, dapat covered ng batas," she said.
(The law should not exempt government personnel assigned abroad.)
Based on the 2021 research commissioned by the Ople Center titled "Seeking Justice: Developing Improved OFW Feedback and Complaints Mechanisms," only 15 percent or 719 of complaints filed by OFWs were pursued, citing figures from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in 2020.
Two percent or 71 of cases have been withdrawn, while over 58 percent or 2,697 opted for settlement.
There are an estimated 1.77 million OFWs from April to September 2020, latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed. Of the figure, 59.6 percent are women while 40.4 percent are men.
— With a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News