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Labatt Jolly set to return to HK

02 September 2018

By Daisy CL Mandap

The combined voices of Filipino migrant workers have been heard. Labor Attache Jalilo de la Torre, whose unceremonious and unjustified recall to Home Office in April sparked widespread protests within the Filipino community in Hong Kong, is about to come back.

The only question now is, when?

Labor Attache Jalilo de la Torre
“My papers are already with the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs)”,  was all that Labatt dela Torre said in response to a message asking when he expected to be back in Hong Kong.

But that could be soon as late this month, or early September. Once the DFA, through the Philippine Consulate, passes on his papers to the Hong Kong government, it will be only a matter of days before Dela Torre gets the go signal to reclaim his post.

According to his temporary replacement, Labor Attache Leonida Romulo, she is herself already preparing to move to another post. Insiders at the Department of Labor and Employment in Manila say Romulo will be posted to Malaysia where she’s expected to remain until her retirement by next year.

Also on the way out is Assistant Labor Attache Ma Nena German, who had cracked down on Dela Torre’s supporters when she was made officer-in-charge for three months after his recall. German will reportedly spend the last four months of her extended term in Taiwan.

Romulo, who took over the top labor post only last month, said there will be a short overlap between her and Dela Torre. “I will stay until Labatt Jolly returns because there should be an official turnover,” she said

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III sent her here to take up the labor attache’s post after dela Torre was recalled a full year before his tour of duty was supposed to end.

Secretary Bello’s letter dated Mar 23 did not give any reason for the recall, but merely said Dela Torre was to report back to the Home Office “effective immediately”. He was also instructed to turn over all money, properties, equipment and accountable forms to German, indicating the recall was final.

The order sparked widespread criticism within the Filipino community in Hong Kong, and caused two big protests to be staged, calling on Bello to revoke the order against the highly regarded labor attaché.

In response to a petition from migrant leaders, Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano both assured the community Dela Torre would get to keep his post.

But with Bello standing firm on his recall order, Dela Torre was forced to return home in mid-April. The two met in Manila about a month later, during which Bellore portedly told his labor attache to write a letter admitting that he instigated the protests against his recall, and apologize.

The news that Dela Torre is on his way back to reclaim his post was greeted with joy and relief by the Filcom leaders who joined the protests against his recall.

Rodelia Villar, leader of the Domestic Workers Corner, said rogue employment agencies have been on a roll since Dela Torre left. “Four months pa lang ang dami nang nabiktima (na domestic workers),” she said.

Villar also said Dela Torre’s return showed how unity among leaders could bring about a desired result.

Eman Villanueva of United Filipinos in Hong Kong said his group is looking forward to meeting with Dela Torre again.

“We are eager to meet with him upon his return. Maraming mga dapat na mapag-usapan na mga concerns ng community na nais namin maihapag sa kanya for POLO’s intervention. One of which ay ang illegal collection ng mga agencies. Gusto din namin syang kausapin tungkol sa mga issues addressed to the HKSAR government. We are confident na gagawa sya ng mga concrete steps para suportahan ang kampanya ng mga OFWs for reforms sa ating working and living condition dito sa HK kagaya ng kanyang ginawa noon sa issue ng window cleaning,” said Villanueva.

For Aura Ablin of Mindanao Workers Federation, the four months that the labor attache was forced to wait it out in Manila while Bello decided on his fate was a lot of time lost.

“Sana yong apat na buwan na pagkawala ni Labatt de la Torre dito ay ibalik yon by extending his term. Ang daming nabinbin na mga programa para sa kapakanan ng mga OFWs dito sa HK and six months is too short to do it all.” said Ablin.

Villanueva suggested a new petition could be made to ask for Dela Torre’s extension way beyond the six months remaining in his three-year-term.

To this day, the reason for Dela Torre’s recall remains unclear. But recent reports suggest  Bello might have been telling the truth when he told Manila reporters that the order to get dela Torre packing came directly from Malacanang. Apparently, a Hong Kong agency owner whose wife is from Davao had approached President Rodrigo Duterte directly to complain about Dela Torre, who had been bearing down heavily on errant recruiters.

It did not help that a group of Hong Kong recruiters who bring in Filipinas to work as bar girls in Wanchai were also up in arms over Dela Torre’s rejection of their job orders, depriving them of lucrative commissions.

Dela Torre had said that he was surprised by his recall, as he was not aware that he was being investigated. He maintained that he didn’t have any problems getting marching orders, but didn’t want to go under a cloud of doubt.

Bello later on said Dela Torre’s recall was temporary and was meant to allow him to defend himself against the accusations made against him.

Asked for his reaction to the protests in support of his top Hong Kong man, Bello said, “I respect their right to air their grievance but they (also) have to respect our mgt (management)/ procedural due proess”.

The recall attracted extensive media coverage because of the widespread support given to Dela Torre by migrant workers who often cite as reasons his uncompromising stance against illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

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