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Labatt’s successor has big shoes to fill

12 July 2019

Labor Attaché Jalilo del Torre

By The SUN
Part 1 of a series

Labor Attaché Jalilo del Torre’s accomplishments in his stormy but fruitful three years as the country’s top labor official in Hong Kong will be a tough act to follow.

Even fellow diplomats in the Consulate admit that whoever is appointed as the next labor attaché will have a very hard time keeping up to his standard of service and commitment.

“Kawawa ang susunod sa kanya, mahihirapan siyang pantayan si Labatt,” said one Consulate official on the sidelines of the send-off on Jul 7 for the controversial but well-loved official.

Picking the side of the OFWs when it clashes against that of the bureaucracy, like what Labatt Jolly did, will provide the biggest challenge to whoever takes over his post.

Labatt Jolly has endeared himself to the OFWs for his transparent moves to improve their working conditions and health, his swift action against abusive employers, and crackdown on rogue and corrupt recruiters.

Just a couple of days after assuming his post in mid-March 2016, Labatt Jolly posted sticker signs around the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Hong Kong bearing the message “No gifts, no bribes”.


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The Filipino community welcomed this as a whiff of fresh air in an office that was previously under a cloud of doubt for being overly friendly with employment agencies, to the detriment of migrant workers.

Before he could even warm his seat, Labatt Jolly put an end to the Thursday night parties in Polo, when agency representatives would come bearing food and gifts, or hold “monthly closed-door strategy meetings” in the labatt’s office.

This cozy relationship happened while many workers were being underfed, maltreated, or fired at unholy hours by employers, or fleeced by recruiters.

That all changed when Labatt Jolly came.

During his tenure, he kept his lines open to OFWs, either through his personal Facebook account, or through his personal mobile phone, whose number he openly posted online. He personally attended in particular to those applying for overseas employment certificates, especially those who needed to go home on an emergency.

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He also did not shirk from responding to their calls for help, and at one time, even rushed to Aberdeen to rescue two Filipinas who were pictured by fellow OFWs cleaning the windows of a high-rise apartment while perched precariously on a ledge.

Labatt Jolly also made full use of his big office by arranging for non-stop livelihood skills training and financial literacy workshops for OFWs through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and in cooperation with Filcom groups and NGOs.

His HealthWise project which provided free medical check-ups to OFWs six days a week has given them a costless opportunity to find out about what’s ailing them. Lately, the program has launched outreach missions in far-flung areas of Hong Kong. 

But what Labatt Jolly will always be remembered for was his insistence on safeguarding OFWs against dangerous window cleaning.

Upset by the death of Rinalyn Dulluog who fell from a 49th floor flat in Tseung Kwan-o while cleaning windows, Labatt Jolly inserted a so-called “Rinalyn exclusion” banning the dangerous chore in all OFW contracts submitted to his office from October 2017.

He later agreed to put this on hold while the Hong Kong government scrambled to amend the standard employment contract for foreign domestic helpers to include a ban on any window-cleaning that puts a worker’s life in danger.

Labatt Jolly chalked up other significant achievement during his short but action-filled stint in Hong Kong.

He notably cracked down on agencies that took newly arrived workers to lending firms to sign up for purportedly personal loans that the agency pocketed and the helpers repaid. He did not think twice about suspending the accreditation of agencies found to engage in this previously widespread illicit practice.

A staunch anti-human trafficking campaigner, Labatt Jolly put an end to the mass recruitment of Filipinas to Russia by calling up a recruiter’s wife who just arrived in Hong Kong in 2017 and warned her that the police were on her tracks. The recruiter recalled his wife back to Moscow but retaliated with threats on social media against Labatt Jolly and his family.

Labatt Jolly’s crusade also covered the exploitation of Filipina workers. When pictures emerged of nearly naked Filipina helpers taking part in a beauty pageant in a Wanchai pub patronized by Western men, the labor attaché called the Filipina organizer to his office to explain. She readily apologized and promised to stop the practice.

The scandal brought back to mind the reason why he was initially recalled by the Home Office in March 2018. Labatt Jolly had blocked a recruiter’s attempt to bring in more Filipina dancers to Hong Kong after finding out that the first batch of 50 recruits were dancing in skimpy bikinis in Wanchai pubs.

His act triggered an investigation by the Department of Labor and Employment based allegedly on a complaint of favoritism in accrediting agencies, and was cited as the reason for his early recall.

Learning this, the biggest migrant workers’ organizations in Hong Kong held two unprecedented mass protests to express support for Labatt Jolly.

This, coupled by the intervention by two top Philippine officials, forced Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to send Labatt Jolly back to Hong Kong after six months.

On his return in October last year, Labatt Jolly told The SUN that no investigation was made into his alleged misdeed. It was plain and simple harassment from the top that would have kept him from returning if he did not have solid backing from the workers he genuinely served.

A second attempt to get him back to Manila just before the May mid-term election also failed when it emerged DoLE had not secured an exemption from the ban on the movement of government personnel during an election period.

All in all, Labatt Jolly had served in Hong Kong an aggregate of two years and 10 months, just two months shy of what should have been a term of at least three years.

During that brief but remarkable time, he allowed Filipino migrant workers a taste of empowerment and real protection.

His departure may well signal an end to all these, unless the workers stay as vigilant and assertive as they were taught during his term.
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