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Ex HK labor attaché blasts Dole for revoking so-called ‘midnight deal’

26 September 2019

By The SUN


Bello cancels 'midnight deal', says
Dela Torre will face investigation
A war of words has erupted between Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello and his former labor attaché to Hong Kong, Jalilo dela Torre, after the release of a public statement revoking a deal the latter entered into while in office, and announcing a formal probe into his possible culpability.
Dela Torre hit out at the announcement as an attempt to tarnish his reputation, and is now said to be mulling his own legal recourse over the fiasco.
Yesterday, Bello announced he was revoking what he called the “midnight deal” entered into by Dela Torre early this year to upgrade the system that the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Hong Kong has been using to process work contracts and maintain a data base on workers and employers.
The deal with Polaris Tools Limited was at no cost to Polo, but accredited employment agencies will have to pay for using the system.
Dela Torre questions Bello's motive; says contract
was at no cost to Polo, so no public bidding was required

The decision to revoke the deal came following an investigation into supposed irregularities in awarding the contract to Polaris. The probe team reportedly found the contract to have been entered into without public bidding “in grave disregard of the procedures of the Philippine procurement law.”
The statement also said there were no documents to show how the supposed bidding was conducted, indicating “manifest haste and lack of transparency attendant to the said bidding.”
However, the investigating team led by Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano, did not interview either Dela Torre or Polaris officials, including its chief executive officer Jaime Deverall, who has always said his company won the contract “fair and square.”


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Dela Torre blasted at the allegation that the contract, signed in March this year, more than four months before he was recalled from his Hong Kong post, was awarded in haste.
“Despite there being no law requiring public bidding of an online system where no government money is to be spent, we wanted to be transparent and requested several companies, including the old provider, to submit proposals and asked them to present before a panel of POLO HK officials and an agency. Four companies submitted and presented. What is “hasty” about the procedure?,” he asked in a Facebook post.
He alleged the investigation was prompted by a shadowy group of employment agencies in Hong Kong who sent an unsigned letter to Bello months before his recall, complaining about the deal that would have provided information for any infraction committed by a recruiter at the touch of a finger.


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“Curiously, the Secretary took up the cudgels for these shadowy agencies and ordered a probe,” Dela Torre said.
He also called it “strange” that neither he nor Polaris was interviewed by the investigating team, suggesting a lack of due process.
The controversy followed a well-documented tangle between the two officials, with Bello trying to recall Dela Torre twice during his cumulative term of three years as labor attaché. The first attempt in February last year was met with fierce resistance from Filipino community leaders, who even staged two well-covered protests in support of Dela Torre.


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Despite this, Bello ordered Dela Torre to return to the Home Office in March last year, and reportedly made him write a statement admitting his alleged role in organizing the protests supporting him. He was returned to Hong Kong in October last year, but in March this year, was informed that he was being reassigned to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This was aborted when it emerged that the reassignment violated an election ban.
Dela Torre was finally forced to return to the Philippines at the end of July, although his tour of duty was officially cut on Jul 7.
Posted below are the press release issued by Dole, and Dela Torre’s reply via a Facebook post.




DOLE PRESS RELEASE:

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III ordered yesterday the cancellation of what he called a “midnight deal” entered into by recalled labor official in Hong Kong and a supplier of an online system for reporting and processing of overseas Filipino workers in the autonomous Chinese territory.
The decision came following the investigation into the reported irregularities in the procurement of the database system from Polaris Tools Ltd. which was found to be done without public bidding in grave disregard of the procedures of the Philippine procurement law.
Bello also ordered a formal probe of former Hong Kong Labor Attaché Jalilo de la Torre to establish his administrative and criminal liability.
Last month, Bello constituted a fact-finding team to look into issues involving POLO officials and systems providers Employeasy Limited and Polaris Tools, both computer systems providers in Hong Kong.
Undersecretary Claro Arellano, head of the fact-finding team, noted that the previous database system used by POLO Hong Kong from 2009 to 2018, which is provided by Employeasy had no authority from the then DOLE secretary.
Also, there were no documents that would show the conduct of bidding to replace the expired contract of Employeasy Limited with the supposed new service provider Polaris Tools, indicating “manifest haste and lack of transparency attendant to the said bidding,” he added.

DE LA TORRE’S REPLY:

“Regarding this unbelievable and unprecedented action of the Secretary’s cancelling the “midnight deal” between myself and Polaris, let me clarify the following: 1) The decision to change the provider has been considered for a long time because it has become obvious that Employ Easy, the old provider, has become unresponsive to our requests for changes and improvements in the system. Agencies and POLO users have been complaining about the difficulty in using it. Later on, we uncovered something more sinister: the owner of EmployEasy and Helper DB, an online job matching service, are one and the same person, a clear conflict of interest. Changing the system and the provider was an obvious, moral and legal choice. 2) Despite there being no law requiring public bidding of an online system where no government money is to be spent, we wanted to be transparent and requested several companies, including the old provider, to submit proposals and asked them to present before a panel of POLO HK officials and an agency. Four companies submitted and presented. What is “hasty” about the procedure? 3) A few weeks before I left Hong Kong, a group of agencies styling itself as “seeking justice” wrote to the President and the Secretary alleging lack of consultations, no public bidding, and that the contract was hastily entered into. Curiously, the Secretary took up the cudgels for these shadowy agencies and ordered a probe. 4) The probe team went to Hong Kong and interviewed people. Strangely, they neither called me nor Polaris to testify. 5) The Secretary has been heard and seen publicly “rescinding” the contract, of which he is not a party, and describing the contract as “midnight”, implying there was corruption. At the same time, he ordered a probe of my possible administrative and criminal liability. I am compelled to go online and clarify things, as my name and reputation are being sullied unnecessarily by forces that have a dirty agenda. I have worked for the government for almost 30 years and my name has never been dragged into any corrupt deals or transactions. I am a recipient of many awards for performance, and of which I am very proud, including the following: 1) DOLE Lingkod Manggagawa Award for Innovation, Individual Category, 2010; 2) Pusong OFW Award by the Blas F Ople Policy Center and Training Center, 2017; 3) Certificate of 4) Gawad Tangol Migrante by the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, 2019 and hundreds of other plaques and commendations from Filipino communities in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Australia and in various regions in the country. These memorials glitter in and around our stairs landing in our Cebu home. I am proud of these because these are what I signed up and worked hard for. I am proud of the communities I have served. I am proud of what I have done throughout my government career. I’m not the one who has been involved in many cases of corruption. I’m not the one siding with rogue agencies. I’m not the one with a shady reputation.”
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