The Philippine labour attache at the centre of a furore over his sudden recall from Hong Kong was investigated on the “instruction” of President Rodrigo Duterte regarding complaints against him, the country’s labour chief has revealed.
Jalilo Dela Torre was removed from his position at the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong and recalled to his home country on March 23, midway through a three-year term. The unusual move by Manila sparked outrage among the city’s Filipino community, who feared it may have been related to vocal opposition from Dela Torre to human traffickers and unscrupulous employment agencies.
In a letter to the Post on Friday, Philippine Secretary of Labour and Employment Silvestre Bello wrote that he had “received instructions from the Office of the President to send a representative to a meeting relative to the complaints filed against Dela Torre”.
“As instructed during the meeting, the undersigned [Bello] directed a team of three officials from the Department [of Labour and Employment] to proceed to Hong Kong on February 25 to 27 to conduct an investigation into Dela Torre,” the letter went on.
During the probe the “fact-finding team found a basis” to issue the recall order, Bello said. It would allow Dela Torre to return “temporarily to shed light on the issues against him and afford him the opportunity to explain his side to the undersigned and the Office of the President”.
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“We hope you have been enlightened on the matter,” Bello concluded his letter by writing.
In response Dela Torre said on Saturday that he was unaware of the complaints made against him. “Nor was I present during the investigation. Naturally, I cannot answer for something I don’t know about,” he said.
But he added that Bello had told Hong Kong News, a Filipino community newspaper in the city, he was being investigated for two issues. “One, that I sat on a job order for bar dancers; two, that I issued Overseas Employment Certificates to workers for China,” Dela Torre said, referring to the document the labour office issues for Filipinos who work abroad.
“Guilty on both counts. One, approval of a job order is discretionary on the labour attache; and two, issuance of OECs to workers for China is allowed under the rules,” he said in his defence.
The labour attache is responsible for scrutinising applications for entry to Hong Kong from groups of Filipinos, or job orders.
Tough-talking Duterte is set for a brief visit to Hong Kong on Thursday after attending the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, which begins on Sunday in China’s Hainan province.
Dela Torre, known to many Filipinos as “Labatt Jolly”, held one of the most important positions at the Philippine mission in Hong Kong, catering to the needs of some 217,000 Filipinos, 203,000 of whom are domestic workers.
The popular diplomatic official had campaigned against human trafficking of household helpers, many of whom he said had been lured from the Philippines with bogus job offers and the promise of an easier passage to the United States, before being abandoned.
He put in place a mechanism to screen Hong Kong recruitment agencies suspected of involvement in helping Filipino dancers visit the city on tourist visas to work as prostitutes.
He was also instrumental in efforts to ban Hong Kong employers from forcing domestic helpers to clean the exterior of windows, after several women fell to their deaths from high-rise buildings.
Dela Torre was appointed to the labour attache post under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, in 2016. Last Sunday Dela Torre said he did not think the recall was because he was an Aquino appointee, as he was answerable to Bello.
On Tuesday Dela Torre reiterated that belief: “I don’t think my being an appointee of anybody has anything to do with it. Labour attaches are not presidential appointees.
“I don’t know whether the recall order will be rescinded. Maybe I will find out when I arrive in Manila.”