As a resource person in these hearings, I find myself listening to the back-and-forth between witnesses and the accused labor officers, and their superiors. The lines of questioning by the senators have been pointblank and policy-oriented, making the two hearings thus far an enlightening experience.
What struck me most was the admission of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario that there was indeed a breakdown in the one-country team approach as mandated by the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995 particularly in an attempted rape case in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. The provision for a one-country team approach was specified in the law as an offshoot of the Flor Contemplacion case in Singapore. In that tragic case, the usual blame game was played with the public ending up outraged and frustrated until President Fidel Ramos decided to cut loose his labor secretary in order to calm things down.
During the second Senate hearing, Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario, in reply to Senator Cynthia Villar’s query, said that the breakdown in the one-country team approach occured when labor attache Adam Musa did not immediately inform Philippine Ambassador Ezzedin Tago about the attempt of Musa’s driver, a certain Jojo Casicas, to rape one of the wards at Bahay Kalinga.
This runs counter to the golden rule in the Philippine diplomatic service: all of the agencies that are assigned or represented in the Post must work as one team under the leadership and control of the Ambassador as the head of post.
By not informing Ambassador Tago immediately about the attempted rape incident, the Post was not able to deal with the problem in the best and fairest way possible.
Why didn’t Labor Attache Musa inform his head of post, in this case, Ambassador Ezzedin Tago, that there was such a complaint from an OFW staying at the Bahay Kalinga who was now a temporary member of his staff? The labor attache explained to the committee that he considered the incident as an internal matter involving two of his labor staff.
The attempted rape took place at the POLO office in August 2012 with the labor attache sending a memorandum to Ambassador Tago about the case two months later, in October 2012.
No matter who was involved, the incident involved a criminal offense under our laws, and the rights of a vulnerable worker may have been trampled upon. It was obvious that even the labor secretary, a woman known for her personal faith and convictions, was likewise not fully informed by her own overeas POLO staff about the said offense hours after it took place.
Whatever the outcome of the Senate hearings, it is obvious that the time has come for a complete renaissance to take place. The labor department and foreign affairs department must work jointly on a unified agenda to reinvigorate its public service commitments to our OFWs.
Sweeping changes must take place. Various OFW groups and leaders should be consulted. The image of the entire bureaucracy dealing with OFW matters must be cleansed and improved for public trust to be regained. Intense training and a much more professional screening process must be adopted to ensure a more world-class labor diplomatic corps.
It is no small matter to be abused by a foreign employer only to be belittled and even mishandled by your own embassy. A longtime friend in the labor diplomatic corps shared his lamentations with me. “How sad that the identity of our labor corps has been reduced to a handful of stories involving just a few officials,” he sighed.
It is sad and downright unfair because I personally knew of labor attaches who died on the job because the workload was not only physically taxing but also emotionally draining. I experience the same pressures every day as a migrant workers’ advocate and yet the number of cases that we handle at the Blas F. Ople Policy Center are but specks of dust compared to the huge and many boulders that are under a labor attache’s watch.
Certainly, the DFA through its heads of post must learn to practice greater vigilance and good governance in relation to the attached agencies under its wing. Labor and welfare attaches must show extreme sensitivity and good jugdement in resolving delicate cases involving OFWs particularly abused domestic workers.
We wish the Senate blue ribbon and labor committees and their respective chairs, Senator Teofisto Guingona III and Jinggoy Estrada, the very best in their efforts to bring about a renaissance in public service for our OFWs. (Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople.)