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Probers of Polo’s new online system decline to meet new provider

02 September 2019

By The SUN
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Probers visited the Polo office in this building and interviewed only key officers

Investigators appointed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to check on a new online system for the Philippine Overseas Labor Office paid a quick visit to Hong Kong last week but did not contact the contractor who made the winning bid for the project.

This was revealed by Jaime Deverall, chief executive officer of the new systems provider, Polaris Tools Limited, who said that repeated offers to meet with the investigating team went unanswered.
"If the investigators truly intend to hear all sides, they should reach out to Polaris Tools, the winning bidders, to hear our side. Instead, it's been over a week since the investigation began and we have yet to hear anything from them despite emailing all members of the investigation team to let them know that we will comply with their investigation and are happy to give a statement,” he said in a message to The SUN.

Instead, the probe team that arrived on Aug 28 reportedly interviewed only key personnel at Polo and some employment agency operators whose names were not revealed.
Polo officer-in-charge Antonio Villafuerte confirmed the arrival of the probers but declined to give further information, saying he and other staff of the labor office have been ordered not to speak about the investigation until it is completed.

“They came, they spoke to some people and then left,” Villafuerte said. He did not identify who the DOLE probers were. 
But Deverall said the five-man team is headed by Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano, who also reportedly did not respond to a request for a meeting.

Polaris co-owner David Bishop, who owns shares in Polaris through his social enterprise incubator Migrasia Global Solutions, Ltd., also sent a letter Dole’s legal head, Philip Paredes, who was one of those who came to Hong Kong, offering to give their side, but was ignored.

Bishop alleged in the letter that there may have been corruption involved in the way the unsigned complaint against Polaris was initiated by a group that called itself “HK Agencies Seeking for Justice”.

“We at Polaris and Migrasia welcome the investigation and are confident that it will absolve both of us and Polo of any wrongdoing,” he said.

“And while reviewing how Polaris legally and transparently vied for and won the contract in question, we also hope you will also ask questions about how the complaint was raised in the first place, who is raising the concerns, and what incentives have caused them to raise such concerns,” said Bishop.

The contract awarded to Polaris in March this year was signed on behalf of Polo by former Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre, who Bello tried to recall during his three-year term allegedly for giving favors to some employment agencies whose names were never divulged.

Dela Torre who was ordered by Bello to leave Hong Kong by July 7 and move to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had always asserted that the move to replace him was instigated by rogue agencies that failed to get him to sign job orders for Filipinas to work as bar girls in Wanchai.

In his press release issued Aug 25, Bello said he was investigating the “haste” with which a new provider for the POLO online system was selected, and that he had formed a fact-finding team to look into the alleged improprieties.

He did not say what had prompted the investigation.

The investigators arrived in Hong Kong on the same day Dela Torre denounced in a public statement on social media the latest effort by “forces of evil” to discredit him and one of his legacy projects.

But he said he welcomed the investigation, saying he was confident it would lead to his name being cleared.

He blamed the “unfounded charges” on a “shadowy group of agencies” that had written to President Rodrigo Duterte and Bello, imputing irregularities on the awarding of the contract.

Dela Torre said the system upgrade was needed to improve POLO’s efficiency and protect it as it waged a dangerous campaign against human trafficking and illegal recruitment.

He said EmployEasy, which ran the system for 13 years, was slow to respond to requests for improvements and modifications and did no more than facilitate the contract processing of agencies.

More importantly, there appeared to be a conflict of interest in its operations, as EmployEasy also operated an online matching service for workers and employers while handling sensitive data belonging to agencies that used the system.

A group of Filipino migrant workers has started an online campaign to support Polaris and the new system, and alleged that the probe is a mere ploy by Dole to restore the “old, opaque way of doing this.”

Their statement also accuses Bello of being on a mission to discredit Dela Torre and Polaris for unclear reasons.


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