Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday scolded officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) for not standing up for a diplomat who had been accused by a newspaper of benefiting from a scam victimizing OFWs in Italy.
“If this was a demolition job, bakit kayo sa DFA at (Department of) Migrant Workers, ‘di kayo nagsasalita para sa empleyado niyo,” the independent senator said at the February 13, 2024 hearing of the Senate Committee on Migrant Workers on massive illegal recruitment schemes.
Cayetano, who served as Foreign Affairs Secretary in 2017-2018, was referring to Elmer Cato, Consul General of the Philippines in Milan, who had been reported by a newspaper in the Philippines as shielding the owners of an immigration consultancy firm being investigated for defrauding Filipino job applicants in Italy.
Cato, who according to DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega was cleared of wrongdoing by the DFA, filed 17 counts of cyber libel against the news outlet last month.
According to media reports, Cato’s complaint stemmed from a series of news reports and commentary that accused him of “dereliction of duty and corruption for supposedly sitting on the complaints of Filipinos who claim to have been defrauded by the Filipino-owned Alpha Assistenza SRL.”
Cayetano, however, said the issue has already tainted not just Cato but the DFA and the DMW because the two agencies left the matter unaddressed publicly even though the diplomat had been cleared of the accusation.
“What’s my main point? Tiwala sa gobyerno. Nawawalan yung OFW ng tiwala sa gobyerno dahil sa nangyayaring ganito,” he said.
Cayetano said when he was Foreign Affairs Secretary, he instructed Cato, whom he had appointed Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, to immediately answer the media whenever there were issues being raised against ambassadors, consul generals, and other officials.
“Kung tama sila (media), don’t let it fester. Nabubuo ‘yung public opinion ng tao eh,” he said.
Cayetano said the DFA needs to stand up for its own diplomats because such issues can overshadow the situation of OFWs, which should always be the priority.
“Takot masyado sa media. Tayuan niyo naman ‘pag tama ‘yung mga tao niyo,” he said.
“This is DFA ha, hindi si Elmer Cato ang pinag-uusapan natin dito. Ang pinag-uusapan natin dito, mukha ng Pilipinas sa ibang bansa,” he added.