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Rousing send-off gets Labatt to rethink retirement

09 July 2019

By Virgilio B. Lumicao

Image may contain: 13 people, including Jalilo Dela Torre, Marites Palma and Marivic Castro Clarin, people smiling, people standing
Officers of the Consulate and attached agencies came in full force, led by Congen Tony Morales (2nd from left, front)

A heartwarming impromptu farewell party given him by some 200 Filipino community leaders and officers of the Consulate, as well as his staff at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, has caused Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre to reconsider his decision to retire.

“Half of my mind is really convinced already to retire kasi nga napaka-stressful yung trabaho namin, especially dito sa Hong Kong, although I’ve been happy and enjoyed doing it, serving the OFW community here,” Labatt Jolly said at the party held in the evening of his last working day, Jul.7

“(Pero) dahil sa ipinakita ninyo, parang nabuhay uli ang aking loob na isulong pa rin ang pakikibaka natin. I haven’t closed the doors on Riyadh, particularly because the community there is also egging me to go there,” the labor official said.

Dela Torre was advised only three days earlier by the Department of Labor and Employment in Manila that he had to leave for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after a tumultuous three-year stint in Hong Kong.


He said he is being pressured by his family to quit, and he has given this serious thought since going to Riyadh at this time is like “jumping from the pot into the fire” because the declining oil prices could lead to job losses for many Filipinos there.

Among those who attended the hastily arranged send-off was a full contingent of officers from the Consulate led by Consul General Antonio A. Morales, who paid tribute to Labatt Jolly.

“Alam po ninyo, ito ay pangwalo kong assignment sa iba’t ibang bansa sa mahigit 20 taon pero ngayon lang ako nakakita na ang community ay nagkaisa para i-request ang extension ni Labor Attaché,” Congen Morales said.

He was referring to two well-covered protests by Filcom leaders last year that called for Labatt dela Torre to be retained in Hong Kong, after Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III ordered his recall for alleged favoritism in accrediting employment agencies.
One of two mass protests held last year in support of Labatt dela Torre
He noted that a group of Hong Kong lawyers and a former Legislative Council member had given a send-off for Labatt Jolly a few months ago, along with a request for his extension.

Jokingly, he said that before Hongkongers learned to protest against the extradition bill, Filipino workers here had already marched on the streets calling for Labatt Jolly’s extension.

“But, kidding aside, it’s an honor for me to have worked with the Labor Attaché, ang puso po niya ay nasa manggagawang Pilipino rito sa Hong Kong at mapapatunayan nyo, kaya kayo nandito ngayon,” Congen Morales said.

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He and other PCG officers later handed Labatt dela Torre a certificate of appreciation “for having served with competence, professionalism, integrity and dedication” from 15 Mar 2016 to 18 Apr 2018 and 20 Oct 2018 to 8 Jul 2019.

Also paying tribute was the newly designated officer-in-charge of Polo, Tony Villafuerte, who thanked his former superior for the reforms that he initiated, both at work and in the community, and said Dela Torre only had the interest of OFWs at heart.

He led fellow officers from Polo and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in presenting a plaque of appreciation to their departing boss.
Image may contain: 11 people, including Jalilo Dela Torre, people smiling, people sitting
Left-leaning leaders called Dela Torre a model government official

Notable among the Filcom leaders who came were those from the militant left, led by Eman Villanueva of Bayan Muna Hong Kong and Macau and Dolores Balladares-Pelaez of United Filipinos in Hong Kong.

Pelaez noted that her group, which is known for its critical stance towards the government on issues relating to migrant workers, had never before joined a rally calling for the retention of a government official, but did so for Labatt dela Torre.

“Ibig sabihin lang po, siya ay isang huwaran, isang mahusay na kawani ng gobyerno si Labatt na magandang tularan ng iba pang mga nagseserbisyo sa gobyerno,” she said.

Villanueva warned that migrant workers need to be on guard and to continue the reforms Labatt Jolly had initiated and, if need be, to take to the streets to fight for these reforms. 

Foremost among Dela Torre’s accomplishments that they cited was his firm stance on banning dangerous window cleaning by foreign domestic workers, which forced the Hong Kong government to make this part of their standard employment contract.

Leaders of Global Alliance, a group closely identified with Dela Torre recalled how they had gone out on a limb to protest his early recall.
Image may contain: 12 people, including Jalilo Dela Torre, Marites Nuval and Leo Selomenio, people smiling, people standing
Leaders from Global Alliance, a known supporter of Dela Torre

Marites Nuval, GA president said, “Naranasan ko ang magwelga, at dahil doon naranasan ko rin ang malagay sa watchlist noong dumalaw dito si Pangulong (Rodrigo) Duterte.”

GA chairman Leo Selomenio who spearheaded the preparations for the last-minute farewell, expressed a wish for Dela Torre to return to Hong Kong in the future.

“This is not goodbye, sana magkita uli tayo one day,” Selomenio said.

Leaders from several Filcom organizations also gave farewell messages, including Rodelia Vilar of Domestic Workers Corner, Elaine Espinosa of Mindanao Federation, Reggie Buen of Luzon Alliance, Nerissa Gimena of One Visayas, Myrna Carigada of Sacoma, Carmen Pilar of CAR, Edna Liboon of National Organization of Professional Teachers Hong Kong, and Art Buban of Bicol Migrants Association (HK).
Image may contain: 3 people, including Virgilio Bello Lumicao and Jalilo Dela Torre, people smiling, people sitting and text
The honoree with The SUN representatives Vir Lumicao and Rodelia Villar, also of DWC
This writer thanked Labatt dela Torre for his friendship and for keeping an open door to The SUN on issues affecting Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong.

In turn, Labatt Jolly thanked everyone, particularly the Filcom leaders, for supporting him in pushing reforms for the welfare of the workers. He told them to unite and protect the gains they have made.

Sana magkaisa uli tayo tulad nang magkaisa tayo sa window cleaning campaign natin. Nagtagumpay tayo nang ipaglaban natin, at kung wala na ako rito maipagpatuloy natin ang  mga reporma naumpisahan natin. Sana ay bantayan nyo yung mga initiatives na na-launch namin at sana maging sustainable ang mga ito.”

Labatt dela Torre expects to stay in Hong Kong for a few more days to wrap up his affairs and decide whether to take up the Riyadh post, or head home to Cebu.

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