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Filcom leaders hit reported plan to recall Labatt dela Torre

03 February 2018

Labatt dela Torre is noted for cracking down on errant recruiters

By Daisy CL Mandap

Filipino community leaders in Hong Kong are up in arms over a reported move to have Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre recalled and replaced by the Department of Labor and Employment's top official in Davao.

The impending recall was hinted at by Labatt dela Torre himself in a Facebook post on Feb. 2, in which he spoke of savoring his “last few days” in Hong Kong.

By March this year, he would have been in Hong Kong for only two years. The usual term for a labor official posted overseas is three years, but this has reportedly been extended recently by the current Philippine administration to five years.

Sources within the Philippine Overseas Labor Office confirmed the reported plan, and said the one being eyed to replace dela Torre in Hong Kong is Raymundo Agravante, DOLE's  regional director in Davao.

Contacted by The SUN, Labatt dela Torre did not confirm or deny the report. But he said: “They can recall me or transfer me elsewhere, but I should not be accused of any wrongdoing." He declined to say anything more.

The SUN also sent a text message to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III asking about the reported recall, and his only reply was "fake news".

The news, which came in the wake of a recent visit to Hong Kong by a three-man fact finding team from DOLE, sparked concern among Filipino community leaders.

Many regard dela Torre as one of the most hardworking Philippine government officials around. During peak season, he opens his office practically every day to the thousands of OFWs who apply for the overseas employment certificate or OEC exemption before going home for a vacation.

Most Sundays, he even sits behind the service counters in POLO, if he is not out attending Filcom gatherings. 

But often cited as his biggest accomplishment was his unilateral move to ban dangerous window cleaning by migrant workers, which Hong Kong Immigration eventually adopted and made part of the standard employment contract for FDWs.

Dela Torre is credited for
getting HK to ban dangerous
window cleaning by FDW
More recently, Labatt’s outspoken stance against the rampant illegal recruitment of Filipino migrant workers for Russia and Turkey prompted Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to vow tougher sanctions against agencies engaged in the illicit practice.

Eman Villanueva, chair of Bayan Hong Kong and Macau and secretary general of Unifil-Migrante HK, said the plan to recall dela Torre sounded suspicious.

“Bakit siya iyong inaalis gayong sa tingin natin e tama ang mga ginagawa niya?,” asked Villanueva.

Since Dela Torre is widely known for cracking the whip on the illegal recruitment of Filipinos, Villanueva said the government will be sending a strong signal that it does not want the campaign to continue if the labor chief is recalled.

Villanueva also asked why Secretary Bello has not fulfilled an earlier promise to review the light sanction imposed on a former labor attaché found to have allowed his then driver to operate an employment agency.

“Tapos itong gumagawa ng mabuti e tatanggalin?,” asked Villanueva.

Dela Torre’s former deputy, Henry Tianero, who is now posted as a labor attaché in Kuala Lumpur, also offered to put in a good word for his former boss.

Tianero sent a copy of a report he submitted to the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong middle of last year, in which he noted a 21% increase in the number of OFWs who were rehired during dela Torre’s first year in office.

“More were rehired because we were deploying more quality workers,” said Tianero.

And this, he said, was all due to dela Torre’s effort to whip errant employment agencies into line, and placing more restrictions on those applying for accreditation.

A veteran OFW leader, Aura L. Ablin of the Mindanao Federation, was also rattled by the news that dela Torre might soon be recalled.

“Relieving Labatt Jalilo de la Torre from his post here in HK is an absolute mistake. If changing the color of the contract from green to blue is a small matter to our government, it is not for us, and those who fell off windows while cleaning their employer’s house. That’s Labatt Jalilo de la Torre's legacy,” she said.

“MinFed will do its best to keep him here in Hong Kong. Let the voices of all OFWs in Hong Kong be heard!”

Another community leader with a large following said his group was "saddened" by the news that dela Torre might be pulled out from his post. Leo Selomenio, chair of Global Alliance and star of the award-winning movie "Sunday Beauty Queen", said: "We have lined up many projects in partnership with POLO. What will happen to us if he goes?"

He said his group wants dela Torre to stay for several reasons: 1) He has bravely cracked down on "greedy" agencies; 2) He doesn't take a day off during peak months when thousands of OFWs line up to get the OEC exemption through the BMOnline system which "puts too much burden on OFWs; 3) He is very approachable and accommodating to OFWs consulting about their jobs; 4) He works with the Filcom in providing seminars and training that benefit the OFWs; 5) Provides quick solutions to problems referred to him.

Selomenio added: "On the whole he performs his duty beyond expectation. We love him dearly as he gives us priority and a sense of importance".

Another leader, Gemma A. Lauraya, president of the National Organization of Professional Teachers Hong Kong, questioned the real reason for the plan to recall the labor chief.

She also said dela Torre should not be relieved half-way into his term because "He has conscientiously and successfully performed his duties. He has worked hard to fulfill POLO's mission, including fighting human trafficking more aggressively, supporting teachers' programs, and protecting OFW rights and interests.

The unexpected visit of the DOLE fact-finding team from Jan. 25-27, apparently timed while he was away on vacation, appeared to have riled dela Torre. On Feb. 1, his first day back at work, he made several cryptic posts on Facebook that caused many of his friends to ask what was bothering him.

POLO sources said dela Torret felt bad on hearing about the investigation, which was apparently sparked by a complaint to DOLE by a Hong Kong recruiter that failed to get its usual job quota for Filipina bar workers in Wanchai. Labatt dela Torre has reportedly turned down routinely applications for such jobs, concerned that the Filipinas were being exploited.

But the agency’s complaint appeared to be just one of the reasons. The investigators also reportedly questioned POLO staff about Labatt dela Torre’s performance, although most gave him a positive endorsement.

Even the wards at the Filipino Workers’ Resource Centre were given a surprise visit by one of the investigators. Asked if POLO was looking after them well, most of the shelter’s occupants reportedly answered in the affirmative.
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