One of the stumbling blocks regarding President Noynoy Aquino’s “matuwid na landas” commitment is the perception that his administration is quite selective regarding the choice of guilty officials to prosecute. While he is preoccupied tooth and nail in former President Gloria Arroyo’s incarceration and Chief Justice Corona’s impeachment, he handles with velvet gloves allegations of irregularities involving associates in the so-called “kakampi, kaklase and kabarilan” circle.
To cite examples, there was Juan Romeo Nereus Acosta who P-Noy swore into office as Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection despite adverse information about the former Bukidnon congressman’s two graft charges in the Ombudsman. Land Transportation Office Chief Virginia Torres is a shooting buddy who was recommended for dismissal by the Department of Justice but survived unscathed. Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Ricardo Puno, another close friend, was found by an investigation committee headed by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to be culpable in the botched Rizal Park hostage rescue. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, a political ally of the President, was accused of tax evasion and, according to reports, also cleared moto propio. Then there’s the recent case of officials of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. alleged to have accepted bribes and Malacanang’s comment? Normal course of business.
The list goes on. There was a report about the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) trying to track down some of its officers who have absconded with millions of public money collections and unliquidated travel expenses that had reportedly been going on in a 10-year period. Sen. Antonio Trillanes sought an inquiry into the alleged collusion within the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that he said led to the trafficking and illegal recruitment of some overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
In fact incidents of human trafficking and illegal recruitment are numerous. Some erring recruitment companies continue to operate in the open long after labor officials had announced their suspensions. It is also of public knowledge that many recruiters in the Philippines charged huge sums — it is said that such fees range from $3,000 up to $10,000 each — for so-called recruitment or placement fees for H2-B (temporary nonagricultural workers) visa applicants when such fees are prohibited in the US, the Philippines, United Kingdom, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands and some parts of Canada. Considering that around 3,000 Filipinos reportedly leave for abroad each day to work, one can just imagine the amount of illegal collections netted. We haven’t even touched on other anomalies such as the hundreds of suspected OFW-drug mules languishing in jails in foreign countries.
These precisely were the issues that Alberto “Donn” Duero had been trying to warn his superiors while serving as Welfare Officer of OWWA. He notified higher-ups about the need to immediately investigate “the illegal recruitment activities by several agencies and individuals in the Philippines” and about the prospect of the homeland descending into Tier 3 in the U.S. Watch List because of it. In a speech delivered before the Filipino Educators’ Association of California, Duero mentioned that in the US alone “hundreds if not thousands of Filipino workers” may have been victimized and that such activities had been reported to the Philippine government. He had “continued to seek justice for the victims and the prosecution of these greedy and heartless elements who are just like vultures in our society,” he said at that time.
The point being that while hardly no one has been made to account for the many shenanigans in the OWWA, POEA and Department of Labor and Employment (DOL) — allied offices entrusted with overseeing the welfare of our overseas workers — lesser known officials are not lauded or assured of protection while in the conscientious performance of their sworn duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, in his earnest efforts to help the government and countrymen even beyond the call of duty, Duero had incurred the enmity not only of the accused recruiters but also of some officials at the top who may be involved in the irregularities.
To those on the shady side of the moral spectrum Duero represented someone who cannot be tolerated. His superiors were reported to have made things difficult for him and a recall order was issued for his return to the Manila office. In a letter addressed to Carmelita S. Dimzon, OWWA Administrator, Duero wrote that “I cannot return to the Philippines because of the death threats I had received. I am not ready to give up my life as well as that of my family.” A subsequent letter-request for an indefinite leave of absence because of the death threats
addressed to Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz of the DOL was given the runaround. “This simply tells me that there is no help that can be expected in regard to my own security and that of my family when we return to the Philippines,” he said. Duero resigned his job and is now in immigration limbo in the U.S.
I last saw Donn Duero last December when my wife and I were invited to an event in his and wife Hannah’s residence in the city of Palmdale, about 60 miles north of LA. I had also talked to him a few days ago on the phone in connection with this article. He had filed an application for asylum with the Immigration department, he said, and in the meantime he drives his wife to work, interact with the
kids and does sundry things. He has in mind to get a law degree so that he may be of more help to people in need.
To think that Duero used to be the lone welfare officer assigned to handle the interests of OFWs in 23 countries and all the states in the U.S.
Quite a loss for a country in dire need of honest and principled employees. It is a sad commentary of the times that public officials like Duero have no future in offices that news reports had been saying are involved in irregularities they are supposed to prevent.