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Filcom groups, students stage protest against Labatt’s recall

26 March 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

Volunteers at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office staged an unprecdented walkout on Mar 25 to join some 400 people in a rally calling on the government to retain Labor Attaché Jalilo dela Torre and recall his deputy instead.

The rally outside Mass Mutual Tower in Wanchai, site of POLO Hong Kong, brought together groups of opposing political beliefs as they stood solidly behind the official.

Labor attache Jalilo dela Torre shows up near the POLO building where the protest was he;d.
“No to recall, no to recall!” and “Laban ni Labatt, laban nating lahat!” the mostly domestic worker protesters shouted as they massed in the narrow alley between the building and the Lockhart Road playground  

The protest highlight came around 1pm when the man they were fighting for arrived and joined the rally. Shouting “We love Labatt!” and “Walang palakasan!” supporters broke into tears as they pressed around Dela Torre. Soon the official was himself in tears.

He thanked his supporters, explaining that his was a job wherein he could be recalled at anytime, but wished it was for the right reason.

“Anuman ang mangyari, ipinangangako ko na lalo kong pag-iibayuhin ang ating laban sa mga human trafficker, rogue agencies, at sa mga ahensiya na naniningil nang sobra. Saan man ako makarating… kahit wala na ako sa Labor, ipaglalaban ko pa rin kayo,” he said.

The outpouring of support began on Mar 23, as soon as word spread that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III had sent Dela Torre the recall order “with immediate effect”.

Dela Torre told The SUN he suspected his recall was linked to a months-old job order for bar dancers from a Filipino employmenr agency that he had rejected. He said with him out of the way, it was likely the POLO officer-in-charge, Assistant Labatt Maria Nena German, would approve the job order.

His recall came two months after a three-man fact-finding team headed by Aristodes Ruaro, deputy administrator for licensing and adjudication of the Philippine Overseas Employment Aministration came to Hong Kong to conduct an invesigation into  Dela Torre's alleged misdeed. The group also included DOLE's regional director in Davao, Raymundo Agravante, the man reportedly being eyed to be Dela Torre’s successor. 

The investigation was conducted while dela Torre was in the Philippones for a vacation.  Neither he nor the officers of the Consulate were informed about the visit, in violation of government protocol and due process.

Contacted by The SUN through SMS shortly after the supposed investigation, Secretary Bello replied curtly, "Fake news.".

Rally speakers took turns blasting Bello and those who plotted Dela Torre’s recall in the middle of his anti-human trafficking and illegal recruitment campaign.

“Secretary Silvestre Bello, ang sabi mo noon, fake news ang balitang ire-recall mo si Labatt. Sabi mo walang recall. Ngayon, immediate recall! Nasaan ang pangako? Puro ka pangako, napapako!” said opening speaker Leo Selomenio, chairman of Global Alliance.

Guy Benitez, president of the Filipino Migrant Workers Union, said Bello was the No.1 liar, having told workers during his visit to Hong Kong in 2016 that they could return home because there were jobs waiting for them, but there was none.

She said it was Dela Torre who had a heart for the OFWs and did not deserve to be recalled.

“Wala po tayong alam na ginawa niyang karumal-dumal sa ating mga OFW. Maituturing na bang kasalanan ang pagbubulgar niya na walang trabaho sa Russia, Turkey at China? Kapag si Labatt ay na-recall, magpipiyesta ang mga ganid na recruiter at trafficker. Dapat sila ang parusahan dahil lumalabag sila sa POEA guidelines,” Benitez said.

Gemma Lauraya, president of the National Organization of Professional Teachers that led the walkout of POLO volunteers, pledged NOPT’s support to Dela Torre “until the end”. The walkout forced BM Online processing to start only at 4pm as volunteers were gone and only shelter wards were present.  

Lauraya said Dela Torre helped teacher-helpers take their licensure examinations in Hong Kong and provided them with continued professional development trainings.

“We are in disgust, we are disappointed. Sinasabing fake news, ngayon nandito na. Hindi iyan puwede. No to recall!” Lauraya said.

Resty Arreza of Mindanao Federation said Dela Torre was a true public servant, the only labor attaché here who sacrificed his meal just to serve the OFWs and who had genuine sympathy for workers and their families.

He urged Bello to withdraw the recall order, saying: “Pakinggan nyo po ang boses ng mga OFW dito sa Hong Kong. Kami po ang nakakakilala sa kanya at pinipilit naming mapanatili dito si Labatt Dela Torre.”  

The Students Against Fees and Exploitation, a group of Hong Kong University students, aired their support for Dela Torre against blackmarket agencies and opposed his recall.

Emcees from militant groups who led the rally compared the recall of Dela Torre to an OFW who gets terminated without notice. “We feel you, Labatt,” they said.

Eman Villanueva, chairman of Bayan Hong Kong & Macau, said those behind the recall plot should be sacked because they are known to favor agencies. He cited in particular German, who he said had been very friendly to agencies that pampered her with gifts.

The protesters afterwards handed to ALA Angelica Suñga a petition from 85 Filcom groups and 9 individuals urging the government to revoke the recall of Dela Torre.
Protesters present their petition to Assistant Labor Attache Angelica Suñga.

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