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Polo reverts to manual contract processing after 13 years

04 February 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Workers and agency representatives transact business at Polo's counters on Feb 3

Business was “normal” at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office on Feb 3, the first day that staff had to revert to the manual processing of work contracts after the automated system they had used for 13 years went out of service.

The return to manual processing had not much impact at the Polo counters because the front-line staff had been prepared for it, Office-in-Charge Antonio Villafuerte said.

Normal ang situation sa Polo, but it is the agencies that are complaining. Nahihirapan daw sila sa pag-type ng mga data na kailangan sa form,” Villafuerte said.
The decision to go manual again came from the Department of Labor and Employment in the Philippines, which declared last year that the bidding process for the new automated system chosen to replace EmployEasy was tainted.

Villafuerte said Polo staff had been briefed ahead of time for the switch back to manual processing, so they were prepared for the task before them.
Villafuerte says paperwork is voluminous but work is faster with manual processing
He also said that doing things manually could speed up the process as attachments are checked and rejected right away, then sent back to the agency if something was missing.

But the workload is more voluminous because all the documents have to be submitted for checking.

In the EmployEasy system, agencies sent forms and documents online, and staff who’d go through them afterwards could reject the incomplete ones, extending the processing time to four days. With the manual way, documents are checked instantly, cutting the processing time to just three days.
But agencies still use the form for EmployEasy submission as guides when they type in their codes and entries. Then they print out a transmittal form, which contains the list of contracts to be submitted for the day.

About this time last year, former Labor Attaché Jalilo dela Torre signed a contract with a new technology company, Polaris Tools Ltd, to replace employEasy, which was deemed no longer efficient and secure for contract submissions.

Under the deal, Polo would not spend a single cent as Polaris would copy the old system’s way of billing the agencies for using the system, including the added feature of tracking their employment visa applications at Immigration Department.

Polo, on the other hand, would have acquired a system that allowed it to keep track of agency violations, and an employers’ blacklist that was updated automatically.
Ex-Labatt dela Torre signed the deal with Polaris with welfare officer Marivic Clarin (right) as witness
Despite this, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III called the contract with Polaris a “midnight deal” entered into illegally by Labatt Dela Torre because no bidding was involved. 

Bello formed an investigation team that looked into the Polaris deal after receiving an anonymous letter from a shadowy group of agencies stung by the system change.

But Labatt dela Torre has always denied the allegation, saying bidding was not required as the contract was at no cost to the government. Despite this, he said he formed a vetting team that chose Polaris from among several groups that were asked to make a presentation of their respective systems.

He also said employEasy had a conflict of interest as it was also the registered owner of an employment agency.

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