Senators conducting an inquiry into the alleged sexual harassment and abuses perpetrated by the country’s labor attaches in Middle East countries said the testimony of Riyadh-based assistant labor attaché Antonio Villafuerte was ‘questionable’ and even berated the labor officer for using ‘obscene remarks.’
Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who delivered a privilege speech on the issue, slammed Villafuerte for using the words “salungso” and “salungki” to refer to bra and panty, respectively.
In Thursday’s continuation of the joint hearing of the Senate blue ribbon and labor committees on the alleged “sex-for-repatriation” scheme, ‘Michelle,’ who ran away from her Arab employer, told the senators the text messages containing such words sent to her by Villafurete were still in her mobile phone.
Villafuerte admitted during the joint hearing that he indeed used those words when he texted Michelle, who had sought refuge at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Saudi Arabia.
But he insisted the text messages didn’t mean anything because he wanted to know if Michelle got the underwear that he bought for her.
“Salungso o salungki, that’s Tagalog. I have no other intention. I just translated “underwear” to Tagalog,” explained Villafuerte, who was also accused by Michelle of attempting to rape her last May 18.
Michelle told the Senate hearing that Villafuerte kissed her on the lips, mashed her breasts and attempted to lift her abaya (Muslim long dress).
She, however, fought back and was able to of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO)’s Bahay Kalinga where she sought refuge.
Estrada taunted Villafuerte for using the “rare” Tagalog words. The labor official however said he learned those words in his Pilipino subjects in Bulacan.
“You’re fooling me. I also studied Tagalog. I have never encountered ‘salungso” and the other word (salungki). I have never learned those words. You might have invented them…. Why did you text that way to a woman who was merely asking for help?” Estrada asked Villafuerte.
Villafuerte maintained that he did not have any bad intention against the OFW. He explained that Michelle asked her to buy her underwear although they have yet to meet personally. He said he felt embarrassed because of the request.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Juan Ponce Enrile also did not buy Villafuerte’s story, accusing him of making excuses.
“Why did you not use the word underwear, and not obscene words? You know we are intelligent here. We understand that kind of job,” said Enrile.
Villafuerte explained that his family came from Guiguinto, Bulacan where he learned to use such words commonly used by people there.
“That’s an alibi. It’s just easy to say that. But imagine, you’re a CPA, you’re a lawyer, you are a well-educated person and you are talking to a woman,” said Enrile.
He reminded the labor official that as part of the diplomatic service, the labor official is expected to be very courteous in dealing with people.
“She (Michelle) maybe just a domestic helper but you have seen her sufferings and then, you would still do that? You have no intention, but wasn’t that hurtful? Will you also tell your wife: ‘I also bought you salungki or salungso.’ Will you tell that to your wife?
Villafuerte said that he had used the terms to his wife.
Enrile, and Senators Cynthia Villar and Teofisto Guingona doubted the labor official’s denials.
“Why would a woman like Michelle come out and subject herself to humiliation if she’s not telling the truth?” said Enrile.
Villar noted a supposed “pattern” of sexual abuse committed by the labor official on distressed OFWs brought to his office.
“I don’t think three persons would fabricate a story to accuse just one person. There must be something wrong there,” she said.
She added that the Labor Department should immediately consider appropriate actions against Villafuerte.
Guingona, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, said it is clear Villafuerte committed “abuse of authority.”
“It is now clear for me that Villafuerte should be replaced and the system should be changed,” he said.
“Angel,” another OFW, told the Senate that Villafuerte used offensive words when she asked for help after seeking refuge at Bahay Kalinga.
Recounting her ordeal, Angel broke down into tears and disclosed that Villafuerte had asked her the following questions: “Ni-rape ka ba talaga? Saan ka tinira? Sa harap o sa likod? Masarap ba makipagtalik ang employer mo? Malaki ba ang ari ng employer mo?”
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