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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Student activists barred at last minute from Duterte ‘meet and greet’ gathering in Hong Kong  

The group Students Against Fees and Exploitation had been cleared to join Philippine leader’s event and had planned to hand over 1,000-signature petition 

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 7:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 9:43pm

Three university students, who had been cleared to attend Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s meeting with the Filipino community in Hong Kong to hand over a 1,000-signature petition, were barred at the last minute from joining the gathering.

“We were told that it was because of security reasons,” said University of Hong Kong business and law student Rachelle Lau, 21, a member of Students Against Fees and Exploitation (SAFE). The advocacy group has investigated the abuse of domestic workers in Hong Kong.

The students had received a text message authorising them to join the event at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, where Duterte was meeting the city’s Filipino community, which includes some 203,600 domestic workers. They had expected to hand in a petition and letter calling on Manila to reconsider the recall of Jalilo Dela Torre, the country’s labour attaché to the city.

Lau said that she and two other students boarded a free shuttle bus waiting at Yau Tong MTR station to take people to the cruise terminal, a service organised by the Philippine consulate. But before the bus departed, the students were asked to leave. 

“Before we entered the bus, we showed the confirmation message and we were allowed on. While we were sitting there, a woman came and asked for our IDs. I think that at first they recognised only me, because my name has been in the media, but then they realised the other two students were with me,” Lau said. 

“The woman who approached us asked why we were there and what we were studying. Then, she told us we were not allowed to go in the terminal.” 

Lau said the woman did not identify herself, but a police officer told the trio that she was a Philippine consulate employee.

“We are disappointed because I was hoping that I and other SAFE students could present the petition to the president or other Filipino officials in person,” Lau said.

The Post was not able to reach the consulate for comment.

Lau said that former lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing and lawyer Allan Bell, chairman of the Hong Kong Domestic Worker Roundtable, who had undersigned the letter drafted by the student group, handed in the petition and a letter to Filipino officials at Kai Tak on their behalf.

The petition had more than 1,000 signatures and both documents urged Manila to reconsider the removal of Dela Torre.

The recall of the labour attaché, a senior official at the consulate in Hong Kong, was announced at the end of last month, sparking outrage in the community. Many have linked the move to Dela Torre being vocal against rogue employment agencies and human traffickers.

Earlier on Thursday, dozens of migrant activists took to the streets near the hotel where the president was staying. Protesters criticised the fact that they were restricted to a small area far from Duterte’s sight. They also noted the disproportionate number of police officers.

At a bus terminus near the InterContinental hotel, the Post saw over 20 police vans and cars. Dozens of armed officers were patrolling the area around the hotel and a police mobile command unit was stationed in front of it.

Duterte, on his second visit to the city in 10 months, held a “meet and greet” event with 2,500 invited guests in a cavernous arrival hall of the cruise terminal before leaving the city on Thursday night. Before he made his entrance on a stage flanked by giant screens, entertainers pumped up the crowd with songs such as Delilah and I Can’t Stop Loving You.   

Additional reporting by Mary Ann Benitez