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Polo volunteers told: do not join rallies, give up your orgs

16 May 2018

By Daisy CL Mandap

Targeted by the new Polo directive are the volunteers
who joined the protest against the recall of Labatt Jalilo dela Torre
Recent moves by the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (Polo) officer-in-charge Ma. Nene German, to take retaliatory steps against those who took part in protests against the recall of Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre, have left Filipino community leaders up in arms.

As a first step, German ordered that all existing Polo volunteers be subjected to a screening so only those who pledged not to join future protest actions would be retained.

German ordered the purge of volunteers' list
During the interviews first conducted on May 6 by two male staff members of Polo, invited volunteers were also told they must give up their memberships in other organizations so they would be “neutral”.

The Polo staff reportedly said the names of selected volunteers would be submitted to the Consulate for approval, then to the government in Manila, before they are given IDs.

Further interviews, this time by a panel headed by the Polo OIC herself, were held the following Sunday, May 12. It’s still not clear when the selected final batch will be made known.

Asked via email to confirm or clarify the reports, German initially replied: “May we asked (sic) from whom you got the herein information re: volunteer interview questions?” 

Told that the information was supplied unsolicited by three Filipino community leaders, German said: “The Office in the exercise of its discretion will continue to determine who will qualify as its volunteers vis-a-vis the services that we need to deliver to our clients. I have no further comment on the issue.”

Most of those who admitted joining the protests, even those who said they did it for personal and not political reasons, were not allowed to stay on as volunteers.

Eman Villanueva of Unifil-Migrante Hong Kong called German’s act unconstitutional.

“Her so-called ‘exercise of discretion’ is in direct violation of the fundamental rights of the Filipino people enshrined in our constitution,” said Villanueva.

He cited in particular section 4, art III of the Bill of Rights which guarantees freedom of speech, expression or of the press, and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

He also pointed out to sec. 8 of the same article, which guarantees the right of all people employed in both the public and private sectors to form unions, associations or societies for purposes not contrary to law.

Deputy Consul General Roderico Atienza who was acting head of post at the time of this interview, said no such re-accreditation process was initiated by the Consulate for its own volunteers. All they did at the start of the year was to ask for an exemption from a new Department of Foreign Affairs directive that posts not enlist the help of volunteers, and they got it.

Atienza said he had not heard, or was told, of Polo’s new rules for volunteers. He also was not aware of any plan by Polo to submit the list of vetted applicants to the Consulate once it is finalized.

However, he said this could come at a later time, when Polo is ready with its approved list.

Volunteers spend long hours maintaining the queue outside Polo
and giving help to OFWs, especially during peak vacation periods
The crackdown sparked indignation among other Filipino community leaders, particularly those who joined the call for Dela Torre to be retained in Hong Kong.

Dela Torre was ordered recalled by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on March 26, citing various reasons, from “favoritism” to “corruption.” Dela Torre’s deputy, German, was made OIC.

Two subsequent protests against the recall apparently stalled the implementation of the order, but Dela Torre was eventually told to return to the Home Office to answer the “charges” on Apr 18.  His fate remains unknown.

In the meantime, a former deputy labor attaché to Hong Kong, Leonida Romulo, will reportedly take over Dela Torre’s post.. Atienza confirmed that Romulo’s nomination had already been submitted to the Hong Kong government for approval, and that she could take over as the new labor attaché within a month.

Among those who took issue with the apparent move to cleanse Polo of Dela Torre’s supporters was Leo Selomenio, chair of Global Alliance.

Selomenio said her group was not even told of the re-accreditation interviews, even if she and other members had been helping out at Polo for years, even during weekdays.

But she said being taken off the volunteers’ list was “not a big deal” to her group because they are busy with so many other projects. She also knew that the new Polo head is bearing down hard on her group as it’s been identified as the leader of the “No to Recall” petition for Dela Torre.
Nuval's Global Alliance is one of the biggest OFW groups in HK

Proof of this was an attempt to bar one of Global’s officers, Marites Nuval, from joining the Filipino community meet-up with President Duterte on Apr 12. Nuval said she was stopped at the entrance to the venue and was passed on to security officers who asked if it was true that she was a protester.

The leaders said they made no attempt to hide their support for Dela Torre, citing his many achievements while in office, and his strong stand against corruption.

DelaTorre was known to have cracked down in particular on the previously prevalent practice of employment agencies giving gifts to Polo officers and staff. In line with this, he had CCTV cameras installed near the counters where the agencies transact business with Polo, but these have since been removed, reportedly on German’s orders.

Instead of Dela Torre, the protesters asked that German be recalled as she had already been “overstaying,” having been retained for another year by Bello after her initial three-year appointment.

Another leader stricken off the volunteers’ list was Rodelia Villar, who founded a big online group that assists OFWs, especially newcomers, on all matters pertaining to their work and stay in Hong Kong.

Villar said she admitted joining the protest to support Dela Torre, but added it was just her personal conviction, and not a political stand against the government. She, however, agreed to the condition not to join further rallies, but still failed to make the cut.

On learning that she did not make it to the second round of interviews, Villar just said: “We plan to volunteer na lang sa Help for Domestic Helpers at sa Mission for Migrant Workers. Mas marami pa kaming matutulungan.”

But concerned about the huge number of OFWs who regularly line up on Sundays for help with registering online for the overseas employment certificate, Villar said she plans to set up an outdoor station somewhere near Polo just so her group could continue helping.

Another leader, Gemma Lauraya, president of the National Organization of Professional Teachers, admitted breaking down in tears when asked if she was willing to give up her group for Polo volunteer work.
Lauraya's NOPT has been helping Polo since 2015

“Loyal po ako sa NOPT,” she said, indicating she was not about to leave her post just to continue helping Polo.

She also said she was fine with not being asked to continue being a volunteer because “hindi ko naman po yan kawalan kasi naka focus naman ako sa organization,” she said.

Lauraya, who was among those who spoke to the press at the height of the “No to Recall” protests, was also not asked to join the Polo selection process, but went on anyway, after hearing about it.

NOPT had been fielding volunteers to Polo since it moved to its previous offices in Admiralty Centre in March 2015.

Another protester who failed to make the grade was Bhebs Leonardo, who said she and two other fellow Bicolanos, including longtime leader Art Buban, were excluded from the second round of interviews for volunteers.

Leonardo said: “Tinanong din ako kung kasama ako sa rally, first and second. Sabi ko,  nagsalita pa kako ako...Two years and 10 months (ako nagvolunteer), laglag din.”

She also said she was made to choose between her organization and staying on as volunteer. “Pinili ko organization ko (kasi) marami nang bawal, parang wala ng freedom.”

Dela Torre was recalled before being
told to answer supposed allegations
of corruption and favoritism
Villanueva said that as a sign or protest, “We are calling on all OFWs to refrain from volunteering with Polo until this draconian rule of Nena German is scrapped. They should not allow themselves to be stripped of their dignity as community volunteers.

He also reiterated a call for President Duterte to reinstate Dela Torre and let him finish his term “and immediately recall ALA German who is already overstaying her term and is abusing her authority as OIC.”

Dela Torre himself was concerned that weeding out the protesters from among the ranks of volunteers could isolate Polo from the community, and will negate the gains achieved during his term.

“The procedure narrows the field of volunteers to those not belonging to any organization, and goes against the very goal of encouraging the formation of   organizations for mutual help, welfare and empowerment,” he said.

Dela Torre also said excluding those who didn’t and wouldn’t join rallies is not democratic and is of dubious legality.

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