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Saudi govt gets tough on gay, lesbian workers

For nine years, Ramil Autentico had to watch his moves as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That was because as a homosexual, Ramil knew very well that the Saudi government didn’t approve of his sexual preference. “Once na nakita nilang kumembot ka, nag-makeup ka doon na lalaki ka, alam na nilang bakla ka. Ikukulong ka. Kapag nakita ka nila, alam na kasi nila ang word na bakla, sisigawan ka nilang 'bakla', ‘harami’. Ang ibig sabihin ng ‘harami’, delikado ka," Autentico said in an interview aired over “24 Oras" Wednesday night. (Once they see you swaying your hips or applying make-up and you’re a man, they’ll conclude that you’re gay and detain you. They call you ‘gay,’ or ‘harami’, which means you’re in danger of being arrested.) The Saudi government follows Shari’ah or Islamic law, which strictly prohibits open display of homosexual behavior. Last month, the Saudi government took its drive against homosexuality a step further when it banned the recruitment of gay and lesbian workers, including those from other countries. In a May 26 memorandum, the consular section of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia reminded recruitment agencies in Manila to be stricter in screening job applicants to the Middle Eastern country. “Officials of recruitment agencies who are responsible in conducting interviews of job applicants to Saudi Arabia are strongly advised to screen them thoroughly so that those belonging to the third sex are excluded," the memo read. The accreditation of recruitment agencies found to have failed to observe this advisory would be permanently terminated, it added.

Discrimination While Philippine groups respect the Saudi government’s decision in light of its sovereignty, they branded this recent move as discriminatory and urged the Philippine government to seek “clarification." The group Ang Ladlad, which advocates the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, said while the Saudi government has the right to implement its own policies, prohibiting the recruitment of gay and lesbian workers is tantamount to discrimination. “If the policy was signed by their King, Saudi authorities are duty-bound to implement it. It is up to them to decide what to do," said Ang Ladlad leader Danton Remoto in Filipino in the “24 Oras" report. Remoto said it was not simply a matter of implementing the law but a human rights issue, as the policy would mean fewer job opportunities for Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, the top destination for migrant Filipino workers. Remoto questioned how the Saudi government plans to implement the policy, particularly on determining whether a worker is gay or not. “How will the screening work? Will it based on hair length, or one’s raising of an eyebrow?" he asked Clarification sought In a phone interview with GMANews.TV, the Middle East chapter of migrants’ rights group Migrante International urged Philippine authorities to clarify the new policy. “We need to understand the cultural limitations in this country, but the Philippine government must seek a clarification on the basis of labor relations between the two countries," said Migrante coordinator for the Middle East John Leonard Monterona. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) refused to comment, saying it is currently discussing the new policy, according to the “24 Oras" report. For its part, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) advised OFWs to be more careful with their demeanor while in the Kingdom to avoid being arrested. “What happens is wherever we are, if we violate the laws of our host country, offenses will have corresponding sanctions," said OWWA director for policy and program development Vivian Tornea in the newscast. “As part of our pre-departure program, the workers leaving the country are educated and informed about the laws and the culture of the host country and we advise them to conform to the norms," she added. Last year, 72 Filipinos were arrested and lashed for cross-dressing in a private concert in eastern Riyadh. Normal penalties include fines, imprisonment and whipping. Individuals found to be wearing even one article of women’s clothing can be imprisoned for three to six months and whipped with a rattan stick between 50 and 100 times. - KBK, GMANews.TV