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Filcom leaders nix plans to recall labatt

17 February 2018

By Daisy CL Mandap

Key leaders of the Filipino community in Hong Kong are vowing to take to the streets to stop any move to recall Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre.

“Mag rally talaga kami kapag ginawa nila yun,” said Leo Selomenio, chair of Global Alliance,which has several sectoral groups under its umbrella.

Another vocal supporter, Aura Ablin of the Mindanao Federation, said they will gather signatures in support of dela Torre if the planned recall pushes through.

An earlier report by The SUN, quoting various sources from inside the Philippine Oveseas Labor Offce, indicated a plan to build up a case against dela Torre to justify his recall. 

Being eyed  to replace him in Hong Kong is reportedly Raymundo Agravante, regional director of the Philippine Department of Labor and Emloyment  in Davao.

The move gained ground when a top-level “investigation team” headed by the deputy administrator of the Philippine Oveseas Emplpyment Administration was sent to Hong Kong on January 25-27 while dela Torre was on vacation.

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.

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”.

Despite the apparent denial of a plan to get dela Torre out of Hong Kong, many Filcom leaders were not appeased 

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.

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.

MinFed's Ablin also said it would be a big lapse in judgmenr if dela Torre were to 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!”

Global Alliance's Selomenio, who starred in 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 appeared to have so riled dela Torre that on his first day back at work on Feb 1, he made several cryptic posts on Facebook that prompted questions from his friends

What apparently irked dela Torre was the discovery that the investigation was 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 a report that Labatt dela Torre was abetting the illegal work of Filipinos in China by issuing them overseas employment certificates in Hong Kong.

Most POLO staff reportedly stood by their boss and denied the allegations.

Even the wards at the Filipino Workers’ Resource Centre who were given a surprise visit by one of the investigators reportedly gave him a positive endorsement 

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