Cartoon by Roni Santiago
Cartoon by Roni Santiago

Taking advantage of people desperately in need of help is an insensitive act that any normal-thinking man would not do, but this is precisely the accusation aired against some “honorable Philippine embassy officials” in the Middle East.

These embassy officials allegedly preyed on distressed female overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have lost their jobs for one reason or another and are temporarily staying in Philippine embassy buildings. They want to go home to the Philippines, but they don’t have travel documents and money for plane fare.

They pin their hopes on the embassy personnel for assistance, but instead of helping these unfortunate women, some of them mothers, these Philippine government employees mercilessly take advantage of them: They demand sex in exchange for their assistance. It was reported that at least three OFWs fell victims of what is called “sex-for-fly scandal.”

Mario Antonio (no relation to the Filipino Star News editor), former Philippine labor attaché in Jordan, was one of the officials accused of currying sexual favors from OFWs. He denied the accusation.

He said, “I vehemently deny the accusations being hurled against me. This has been gravely affecting me and my family so I decided to come here to give my side,” Antonio told reporters at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) office in Pasay City.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bellow had earlier accused Antonio and other embassy staff of demanding sexual favors from women OFWs or pimping them to foreigners in exchange for flight to the Philippines.

Also named by Bello in the alleged sex-for-fly scandal were Blas Marquez, a contractual employee of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Kuwait, and a certain Kim  of the Augmentation Team of the Department of Foreign Affairs at the embassy in Damascus, Syria.

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Bello said, “These activities are common knowledge among embassy personnel in Jordan and Kuwait. Mr. Antonio faced similar charges in Beirut and Tokyo, while there is a Commission on Audit report on the alleged shortchanging by Mr. Marquez of Filipino workers paying for their employment certificates to the tune of P330,000 per year since 1997,” he said.

The accusations are serious enough, and the Philippine government should get to the bottom of it.

We are not saying that Antonio and the other personnel are guilty of the accusations against them, but they should be given an opportunity to confront the accusers and the witnesses at a proper forum.

If there is air-tight evidence of wrongdoing, the maximum penalty provided by law should be imposed on these officials and they should not be allowed to remain as government officials.

The undisputed allegations conjure an image of hovering vultures waiting for weak, helpless animals to fall on the ground.

If the OFWs are the Philippines’ modern-day heroes, the accused personnel appear to be the villains.