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Keep Labatt Jolly in HK

04 April 2019

A speech delivered at a farewell tribute to Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre on Mar 25 at Linklaters office in Central was excerpted from this.

It’s a privilege to join you all in paying tribute to our good friend, Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre

My husband, Leo (Deocadiz, our publisher) and I, are among a few who have known Jolly since he was first posted here as deputy to the late Labor Attache Dante Ardivilla, in 1998. Through that association we managed to rope him in to write a column for our newspaper, The SUN. His column, Action Line, became a lifeline for many of our migrant workers looking for solutions to labor-related problems. We took that association further when we co-organized rights seminars for our migrant workers in several parts of Hong Kong, along with law professors from City University of Hong Kong. Shortly before he was posted elsewhere, Leo published Jolly’s Survive Hong Kong, a few copies of which have survived the passage of years, save for a few that we saved for ourselves.

But that friendship endured, through several more postings for Jolly – in Riyadh, Tel Aviv, and Canberra. I remember reaching out to Jolly when we heard of a scam to lure some of our workers to Australia on student visas using fake documents, and he responded, as expected, by providing all the information we needed to put a stop to that fraud.

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It’s the same kind of working relationship we have had with him since he was re-posted here three years ago as head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office. We relay cases to him of our workers getting into some kind of a trouble, and Jolly, without fail, responds even far more than expected. I remember our associate editor, Vir Lumicao, tipping him off about two of our workers being photographed clinging precariously to a ledge while cleaning windows, and Jolly himself, along with his deputy Henry Tianero, rushed to Shatin to rescue the workers. No wonder that when Rinnalyn Duolog fell to her death while cleaning windows in a Tseung Kwan-o high rise, Jolly unilaterally clamped down on this dangerous practice that put many of our workers’ lives at risk, forcing Hong Kong authorities to follow suit. If there is one thing in fact that should be considered as Jolly’s legacy to us here, it should be the addition of dangerous window cleaning among the prohibited acts in the standard employment contract for our FDHs.


There have been many other cases we’ve worked on that I daresay helped save our workers from harm, or abusive situations. There was the case of Ester Ylagan who lured about 500 Filipinos to apply for non-existent jobs in Canada and the UK in exchange for between $10,000 and $15k each. We brought about 100 of them in one go to Jolly, along with a case summary, and he lost no time drafting affidavits which we asked each one of the workers to sign so they could be authenticated and passed on to the police and the HK Labour Department within the same day.  That was how we managed to speed up filing complaints with relevant authorities on this case. Sadly, though, after more than two years, Ester is still out on police bail and we still do not have an idea when or if, the case will be brought to court.

There was also the case of a couple who were stopped from recruiting more of our workers for illegal work in Russia. When Jolly heard from Vir about the couple’s impending arrival in Hong Kong, he immediately posted a warning on Facebook against the recruiters that they immediately hot-footed back to Moscow without managing to lure any more Filipina into their trap. In the process, he got a lot of threatening messages, with someone even setting up a fake account in his name, along with some family photos, in an obvious attempt to intimidate him. Jolly just kept exposing them.


Then there was Lanie Grace, whose shocking notebook of penalties showed the extent of abuse she suffered at the hands of her employer and her live-in partner for 1 ½ years. Jolly gave the go-signal for her and another fellow Filipina in the house to be rescued, then provided them shelter and help in pursuing their labor claim. Lanie is now being helped in her cases by prominent human rights lawyer Patsy Ho as well as the Mission for Migrant Workers, and again, we are looking forward to having a happy ending to this story.

There have been many other such stories, like the time he called up the organizer of a sleazy beauty contest to explain why she allowed her fellow Filipina domestic workers to be exploited in that way, and she responded by going to his office and offering an apology. Somehow, though, an expat solicitor professing concern for the girls got wind of her plan, and came barging into Jolly’s office with threats and all, so we ended up calling the police to throw him out. Our Mr Cool hardly flinched.

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But Jolly has gone out of his way to extend help to our workers, not just during their direst moments, but also to encourage others in happier situations, to pursue higher learning or acquire new skills so they can better prepare for their eventual return home. He has opened the labor office to all sorts of livelihood and financial literacy training, and even to more creative pursuits, like script and news writing, and writing to relieve stress.


Jolly never stops reaching out or bending over backwards to lend our workers a helping hand. And as many of us know, they have reciprocated in turn, to the extent that they held two emotion-laden protests to stop Jolly being recalled to the Home Office last year, on baseless grounds. Hearing of the news to get Jolly pulled out from Hong Kong again, many people in our community, migrants, residents, business and religious people alike, are again banding together to ask that Jolly be retained in Hong Kong, even for just a little bit more time. As one migrant leader said, much still needs to be done, and Jolly’s presence is pivotal in getting those things done.

So let’s not say farewell to him just yet, for the gods in Manila might still be convinced to let their most popular labor envoy to stay put.

Let’s all join the call to get Jolly retained in Hong Kong.


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