ON TARGET

Something rotten at Museum

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Newly-elected party-list Rep. Roy Señeres says the Philippine ambassadors in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria should be held accountable for the sexual exploitation of runaway Filipino domestic helpers now living in the embassies’ refugee centers.

The ambassadors in these Middle East countries should be charged along with labor officers accused of demanding sex from the distressed women or forcing them into prostitution, said Señeres,  of the OFW Family party-list group.

The newly-elected party-list congressman knows whereof he speaks since he was a labor attaché and later, an  ambassador to the Middle East in the 1990s.

One of the primary functions of an ambassador is to safeguard the welfare of his constituents in his host country, Señeres said.

The failure of the ambassadors in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria to protect the distressed women from sexual exploitation by labor officers makes them  administratively liable.

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Señeres figured prominently in rescuing a Filipino maid from being beheaded in the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s.

The maid was convicted for killing her employer whom, she claimed, had raped her several times.

That incident became a cause celebré; the former maid, Sarah Balabagan, later became  a movie actress.

Señeres, who was the Philippine ambassador to the UAE at that time, pleaded with officials in the host country for a commutation of Balabagan’s sentence, and eventually her freedom.

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Why hasn’t the Commission on Audit (COA)  come out with an official report on the alleged plunder at the National Museum?

The COA has reportedly discovered that National Museum Director Jeremy R. Barns and Deputy Director Ana Theresa Labrador allegedly withdrew P306.9 million from the Land Bank of the Philippines and deposited part of the amount in two private banks. The rest was reportedly used to invest in ABS-CBN stocks.

The records I have in my possession say the exact amount that was withdrawn from the Land Bank, the official bank of all government agencies, was P306,926,248.99.

The amount, according to my sources at the National Museum, is part of the P500-million endowment fund for the agency which uses it for scientific research.

The endowment fund came from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.  and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

The two private banks, according to COA records, are Bank of the Philippine Islands and Banco de Oro.

Withdrawing government money from the Land Bank and depositing it in two private banks and investing part of it in stocks constitutes plunder.

Barns and Labrador should be charged with plunder.

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Incidentally, why is the National Museum headed by a foreigner and nonscientist?

According to his personal data sheet, Jeremy Robert Barns was born in Australia to Robert Neil Barns and Iris Jarbs Morales.

Barns graduated from Boundary Junior School in 1985. He later studied at King George V School in Hong Kong and at  Anglican Church Grammar School in Australia, where he finished his  high school studies in 1991.

He has a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Queensland, Australia (1992 to 1995).

Barns picked up a Master of Science in Economics degree from De La Salle University, Manila (1999 to 2002).

Granting that he holds  dual citizenship—Australian and Filipino—his qualifications as head of the National Museum is under question.

The head of the National Museum should be a scientist, or at least have a background in anthropology.

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