Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Philippines Investigates Prostitution Ring Charges ; Diplomats at Embassies in Middle East Are Said to Exploit Stranded Workers

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Philippines Investigates Prostitution Ring Charges ; Diplomats at Embassies in Middle East Are Said to Exploit Stranded Workers

Article excerpt

Officials have opened investigations into allegations that diplomats at embassies in the Middle East have exploited workers stranded in areas affected by political and economic turmoil.

The Philippine government is investigating allegations that its diplomatic personnel have trafficked Filipino women in the Middle East who were seeking refuge, the foreign secretary said Monday.

Philippine diplomatic and labor officials are alleged to have forced distressed Filipino women, in countries like Kuwait and Jordan, into prostitution in return for safe passage back to the Philippines.

"There are allegations that this has become institutionalized in terms of the establishment of sex rings and so forth," the Philippine secretary of foreign affairs, Albert del Rosario, said at a Monday news conference.

"Investigations are being conducted to ascertain the validity of these allegations," he said.

The investigation by Mr. del Rosario's department has involved the recalling of 13 heads of diplomatic missions throughout the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. The ambassadors were not implicated in the allegations but were called upon to provide information, he said.

The investigation also found three victims who alleged that they were victimized by Filipino diplomatic or labor officials, Mr. del Rosario said. One suspect has been identified and recalled to the Philippines.

According to government figures, more than 10.4 million Filipinos live and work overseas, taking jobs ranging from low-skill domestic work in the Middle East and Hong Kong to emergency-room nursing in Canada and Europe.

Most Filipinos who go overseas for work are sent to Middle Eastern countries, often laboring in difficult and dangerous conditions in order to send money to their families in the Philippines.

A Philippine congressman, Walden Bello, opened an inquiry into the allegations of abuse in early June after receiving information about officials extorting sex in exchange for flights home.

"Our initial investigation into sex for flights revealed something bigger," Mr. Bello said Monday by telephone. …

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