The Philippine foreign affairs secretary dropped a strong hint on Wednesday that a controversial government order to recall the country’s labour attache to Hong Kong could be rescinded.
Alan Peter Cayetano, a member of visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s delegation, said an announcement would be made when the leader meets with an expected 2,000 citizens at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on Thursday.
Philippines recalls Hong Kong labour attaché, known for his strong anti-human trafficking views, sparking outrage
Jalilo Dela Torre, nicknamed “Labatt Jolly”, was issued a recall order last month midway through his three-year term. The unusual move by Manila sparked outrage among Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic workers, who feared it was linked to Dela Torre’s vocal opposition to human traffickers and unscrupulous employment agencies.
On Wednesday night, Cayetano confirmed Secretary of Labour and Employment Silvestre Bello had met with Dela Torre, and Duterte had also instructed his special assistant, Christopher Go to “look into” the issue.
Cayetano said: “Bello assured me … that he is dealing with it and the investigation will be fair and it’s for Labatt to explain himself. I am confident it will be resolved positively.”
The Post last week quoted a letter from Bello saying Duterte himself ordered an investigation into complaints filed against Dela Torre, resulting in the recall order.
At the press conference, Cayetano also said Duterte had spent the second day of his trip, which ends on Thursday, “working and meeting up with various groups” and briefing ministers in his delegation at the InterContinental hotel.
The president, he quipped, did not even have time to visit his favourite Kowloon Park.
The tough-talking leader, who is approaching the mid-point of his six-year term, won an overwhelming number of overseas absentee votes from Filipinos in Hong Kong during the 2016 election.
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A source said Duterte was rallying support in the city – his second trip here in 10 months – for his party’s favoured candidates for the Philippine Senate race in May next year. Go has been urged to contest the election and fill one of six seats up for grabs.
Both loved and reviled for his strong-arm rule, Duterte’s reputation has made him a relatively high-risk target and the city’s police earlier said they would deploy heavily armed counterterrorism units and members of the VIP Protection Unit to guard him.
After he and his delegation arrived from the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, they were whisked off under heavy protection. Duterte held bilateral talks with President Xi Jinping there and Cayetano confirmed Xi had accepted an invitation for a state visit to Manila, with the date to be confirmed.
Tight security continued at the hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui on Wednesday, with armed officers checking all entering vehicles.
Human rights and domestic workers groups had threatened to protest against the man they labelled “a tyrant and a fascist”, but there were no reports of any demonstrations on Wednesday.
They said they would take to the streets on Thursday and gather at a site facing the InterContinental Hotel. They had originally planned to protest outside Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, but police did not agree to their plan.
Duterte will be joined at the late afternoon gathering by popular film star Robin Padilla, and former actor Cesar Manhilot (better known by his screen name Cesar Montano), who is now undersecretary and chief operating officer of the country’s Tourism Promotions Board. Both are members of his delegation.
On Wednesday, while Duterte was stuck indoors, his daughter Sara – now mayor of Davao City, a role her father had for 20 years before he assumed the country’s highest office – was spotted with her young son at Disneyland.
They were tailed closely by local police and Philippine presidential security officers.
The 217,000-strong Filipino community, of whom 203,000 are domestic workers, are divided over whether Duterte has made a difference for those overseas, who have been crucial in propping up the country’s economy for years.
One professional who did not wish to be named, said “so far there have been no good changes in the Philippines”.
Musician Saturnino Tiamson said he had always been supportive of Duterte. He has noticed that an ordered curfew has helped restore law and order by preventing alcohol-fueled violence.
He did not think Duterte would declare martial law.
“[Duterte] looks like a dictator but he is called a disciplinarian. He is not worse than Marcos,” Tiamson said, referring to Ferdinand Marcos, the strongman who ruled the country for more than 20 years.
“I think we need to be patient with Duterte. I don’t like his foul mouth … but the projects and laws he is implementing have been OK to me.”
Additional reporting by Sum Lok-kei