American Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Mari Carmen Aponte and Philippine State Department Undersecretary Jose Maria Romualdez (right) at a meeting at the State Department in Washington, on May 22, 2018. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
US announces sex-trafficking charges against Duterte ally
WASHINGTON— The United States on Friday announced charges against a key ally of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, alleging he conspired with gang members to transport and sell young girls from Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere to work as prostitutes in the Philippines.
Human rights groups have criticized Duterte, a former mayor, for fostering violence against journalists and the poor. He has also been accused of condoning rape and executing drug suspects with impunity.
Duterte’s close aide, Jesus Dureza, has denied wrongdoing and insisted he never sexually abused minors. He said the indictment had “no basis whatsoever.”
Under Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (USAID) Jose Maria Romualdez said the 58-year-old Dureza was a U.S. government contractor who worked as a foreign representative for the Reagan administration in the Philippines when he was accused of abuses that included forced labor and sexual abuse. He said that in 1985, Dureza was arrested on human rights charges for coercing passengers for a junket to the Philippines to work as sex slaves.
Romualdez said Dureza was the lead witness in the case and accompanied by two of his co-defendants. He was freed after reaching a plea agreement.
“This is one of the most embarrassing cases in my personal memory,” Romualdez said of the “rapidly evolving and twisted” nature of the recent investigation.
A Philippine foreign ministry statement earlier Friday issued after Dureza’s arrest said he was detained in “recovery and maintenance of custody” against “accusations of grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearance and illegal detention.”
The statement from Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano did not elaborate on the alleged violations. A minister in Duterte’s cabinet said he had been freed and was transferred to the Justice Department, though Romualdez said Dureza remained in police custody.
The U.S. announcement said Dureza had served as the Philippines’ chief peace negotiator in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and worked on U.S. administration efforts to get the rebel group to cease hostilities and join negotiations with the Philippine government. He was also charged with robbery and fraud while in the Philippine navy.
The State Department has expressed concern about Duterte’s continued brutality against drug dealers and users as the killings have spread alarm in the Southeast Asian nation.
Dureza told Philippine media outlets that the main allegations made by the Justice Department were “categorically incorrect.”