Philippines recalls Hong Kong labour attaché, known for his strong anti-human trafficking views, sparking outrage
No official reason given for Jalilo Dela Torre’s removal, though some suspect decision was related to his criticism of human traffickers and unscrupulous employment agencies
Manila has recalled the labour attaché of its consulate in Hong Kong – one of the most important positions in a city where there are more than 190,000 Filipino domestic workers – a year before he completes his term, in a move that is sparking outrage in the community.
No justification was provided in the official memo, but members of the community are suggesting that the decision might be related to Jalilo Dela Torre being an outspoken voice against human traffickers and unscrupulous employment agencies.
Dela Torre has vowed to continue this fight.
“Whatever the outcome is, I will continue to fight human traffickers and rogue agencies wherever I am,” he told the Post.
The official was taken by surprise on Friday after receiving the memo telling him he had been recalled to the home office in the Philippines and that the order was effective immediately.
Typically, after a recall order has been issued, an official has 60 days to leave the post. But Dela Torre said he might depart in the coming two weeks and was not told about his next assignment.
It is unclear whether his replacement has been chosen. The current assistant labour attaché in Hong Kong will take over the position temporarily.
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“It might take some time until they choose someone permanent,” Dela Torre said.
Another consulate official said that, as of Sunday evening, he had not been informed about Dela Torre’s replacement.
“We don’t know if this is a final decision or if they will reconsider it. They can’t leave this post vacant because this is a very important position,” the official noted.
The term of a labour attaché is three years. Dela Torre served two and was supposed to stay in Hong Kong until March next year. This is believed to be one of the few recalls of an official from the city’s Philippine consulate in the past 20 years.
“I hope they reconsider the decision,” the consular official said. “We support and we are happy with his work. We think he should continue and complete his term.”
“The community here are not too happy with this [Manila’s decision], and they already expressed it,” the same source said.
Leo Selomenio, chairwoman of Global Alliance Hong Kong, a group that promotes Philippine culture in Hong Kong, said she strongly opposed the move by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
“[Dela Torre’s] exit is not good for us,” the domestic worker said.
“He has been fighting for our rights and defending us. We demand for him to be allowed to stay until he finishes his term next year. There are many projects in line, and he should continue them. We cannot accept this,” she noted.
Selomenio said the community did not know the reason behind the unexpected decision.
“But people believe that one of the reasons has to do with human trafficking,” she added. “He has been very outspoken. And we also know that the recruitment agencies that charge excessive placement fees are not happy. They probably complained with the government in the Philippines. Maybe there was some pressure there.”
Dela Torre has been vocal against unscrupulous employment agencies that overcharge and deceive domestic workers. He has exposed cases of Filipino helpers in Hong Kong who end up being trafficked to other destinations, such as Russia and Turkey.
The official posted on social media on Sunday: “A human trafficker in Turkey has just taken credit for my recall. Either this proves that they are involved somehow, or they are taking advantage of the situation to advance their own predatory human trafficking operations. Cheap shot.”
Several members of the community took to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday against Manila’s decision. There have also been dozens of messages posted on social media in support of Dela Torre.
Selomenio called the recall an “injustice” for the labour attaché, adding: “He deserves a good exit, a dignifying one.”
Dela Torre said he would like to continue his work in Hong Kong.
“My main projects have to do with combating human trafficking and reforming the accreditation system for agencies,” he explained. “These are the two main things I am worried about. I don’t know if my successor is going to be worried or interested in picking up and continuing these projects.”
Dela Torre has a special relationship with the city, as it was in Hong Kong that he began his career in 1998 as an assistant labour attaché. He was then moved to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Philippines and Australia. The diplomat returned to Hong Kong in 2016.
“My strength has always been to be close to the community and develop projects with them,” he said. “I hope I will be allowed to continue to do so.”