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And so, farewell?

06 August 2019




“The trouble with hello is goodbye,” so the song goes. And that’s exactly how many of us in Hong Kong felt recently, when our highly popular labor attaché finally bid goodbye to us, ending a stint that will always be remembered for two dramatic protests held to stop him being recalled to Manila.

Barely three years since he was posted in Hong Kong, Labor Attache Jolly dela Torre was given his walking papers for the third time in much the same manner it was done previously: abruptly, harshly, even arrogantly.

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The brief memo from Labor Secretary Bebot Bello stated that Labatt Jolly’s last day at work was July 7, or a scant few days away. His deputy, Tony Villafuerte, was to act as officer-in-charge until a replacement was found.

In what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to further bruise his ego, Labatt was told he was to proceed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a hardship post he was sent to nearly two decades ago.

It’s a post generally reserved for rookies, or those outside of the appointing power’s elite circle. At age 62, and having distinguished himself in the various places he was sent previously, this was not obviously a posting Labatt would relish.

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In short, it was a punishment. An obvious attempt to cut him down to size, possibly because he dared turn himself into a labor rock star - never mind if it was all due to his hard work, brilliance and remarkable service - and not because he wanted to upstage his  superiors.

Bello must have been chafing, too, because his two previous attempts to pull Labatt Jolly out were stalled. First, because someone closer to the power-that-be had interceded on Labatt’s behalf, and second, because some labor underling failed to secure an exemption from a four-month election ban on the movement of government personnel.

Desperately trying to save face, Bello did get Labatt to go home early last year and made him stew for six months until, in petulant fashion, ordered him to write a letter of apology and own up to initiating the protests staged to thwart his recall. If this wasn’t so nasty it would have been laughable. Imagine Unifil-Migrante being told what to protest about!

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So Labatt got to serve nearly the full three years he was promised when he was sent here. But then again, labor officers are now sent abroad for five years, instead of just three, so they still owe him two years. That must have been how the Riyadh post was conjured, and one could almost imagine Bello chuckling to himself as he drafted his memo.

For sure, Filipinos in Riyadh, especially those who had known him when he was posted there, have been raring to get him back. One even posted on Facebook that it was time the Filcom in Hong Kong released him so he could help them in turn. We heard even the country’s ambassador to the kingdom had personally sent a message to Labatt to entice him to come.

But Riyadh’s gain shouldn’t be Hong Kong’s loss. Labatt still has a lot of plans for us,  and as he said in one of his farewell messages, he is sad to be leaving at a crucial time in the community. Already, Bello has announced a slowdown in the deployment of Filipino workers here because of the ongoing anti-government protests which many fear, could escalate further.

We need Labatt’s pro-active and pro-worker stance to help us through these difficult times. We need someone as trustworthy, as capable, and as caring as he has been in the brief but productive years he was with us.

In short, we need to continue to find ways to make him stay, now or never. --By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap
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