HONG KONG – Not guilty as charged, but of the lesser offense of simple misconduct.
With this finding, a Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) investigating panel ordered former labor attaché to Hong Kong Manuel Roldan suspended from office for a month and one day, in a written judgment dated July 27 officially released to members of the Filipino community on August 11. (READ: Ex-labor attaché to HK ‘probably guilty’ – PH lawmakers)
But in lieu of serving the suspension, Roldan was allowed to pay a fine, after the panel noted that his temporary absence “could hamper the operations” of the National Maritime Polytechnic in Leyte which he now heads as executive director.
The judgment left many migrant support groups outraged. They accused DOLE of a whitewash as the hearing was conducted without giving affected parties, including the complainants, the chance to appear and present evidence. (READ: Philippine labor attaché to HK under fire)
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, who met with members of the Filipino community in Hong Kong on August 7, tried to downplay the criticism, saying the decision was not yet final. She said they could still appeal to her if they were dissatisfied.
But the critics were not appeased, and vowed to pursue other avenues, including an inquiry earlier promised by the Philippines’ House committee on overseas workers affairs (COWA), to get the case heard properly and for Roldan not to get off as lightly.
Roldan was probed for alleged grave misconduct and for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service which he reportedly committed while posted in Hong Kong.
The main charge arose from his endorsement of the accreditation of an employment agency owned by the daughter of his driver, Donald Retirado, who was also under contract with DOLE as a local hire in Hong Kong.
Roldan was also cited for his “questionable implementation” of DOLE’s conciliation program at the Hong Kong post.
In its judgment, the DOLE panel dismissed the allegation of impropriety in the accreditation of Magnificent Maid, the agency owned by Retirado’s daughter.
The inquiry supported Roldan’s defense that he did not have prior knowledge of Retirado’s interest in the agency, and gained no benefit from endorsing it for accreditation.
But he was found guilty of simple misconduct in expanding the coverage of the conciliation system which may have put some OFWs at the mercy of their recruitment agency.
“While misconduct generally means wrongful, improper or unlawful conduct motivated by a premeditated, obstinate or intentional purposes, it does not necessarily imply corruption, the element which qualifies misconduct as grave misconduct,” said the judgment.
“Thus, unless there is a substantial evidence of corruption, the transgression of an established rule is properly characterized as simple misconduct only,” it added.
Migrante Hong Kong denounced the judgement as a mere slap on the wrist, and as another sign of the “impunity” that reigns in DOLE.
“For the second time, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) under Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz’s leadership, has proven to be a coddler of abusive, corrupt and neglectful labor officials. Impunity reigns in DOLE to the detriment of our overseas Filipino workers,” Migrante said in a statement.
The statement recalled DOLE’s order of reprimand on Roldan’s predecessor, Romulo Salud, who was investigated 5 years ago after being caught on tape shouting invectives at a Filipina helper who had sought his help.
“It is unconscionable for these abusive government officials to go unpunished simply because they are being coddled by their boss,” said Migrante HK chair Vicky Casia-Cabantac. “Where is justice in this?”
The judgment, which followed an internal investigation by DOLE, also left the original complainants in the case, the Coalition of Service Providers (CSPEM), indignant.
At the Auguse 7 public forum with Baldoz, who was then visiting Hong Kong, CSPEM members angrily rebuked the labor official for conducting an investigation without giving them a chance to present evidence and air their side.
One of them, Cynthia Tellez of the Mission for Migrant Workers, later told The SUN that it was highly inappropriate for DOLE to have acted unilaterally on a complaint against one of its own officials.
She said her group had waited for months to be called to testify but they never heard from DOLE until they were given a copy of the judgment.
CSPEM’s complaint was first directed to Consul General Bernardita Catalla, who immediately formed a fact-finding committee to look into the allegations.
In its report dated September 27, 2014, the investigating committee identified some serious violations that Roldan appeared to have committed, including allowing the accreditation of Magnificent Maid despite knowing beforehand about its link to Retirado.
More disturbingly, the committee noted that Retirado’s contract with DOLE had been tampered in an apparent attempt to deflect allegations of a conflict of interest.
The committee also noted that Roldan did accredit more than 70 new agencies during his term, but did not ascertain whether this was in violation of an existing ban, or order from DOLE.
The committee also cited Hong Kong authorities as saying that it is illegal to conciliate any act that violates the territory’s labor ordinance, specially the collection of excessive placement fees.
After getting hold of the consulate report, a delegation of Philippine congressmen led by then COWA head Walden Bello conducted a public hearing in Hong Kong. They said Roldan appeared to have committed the alleged acts.
The congressional delegation said it would conduct its own investigation, but has so far failed to follow up on this promise.
Told of the DOLE decision, Gabriela party-list Representative Luz Ilagan said the Makabayan bloc in Congress would request for a copy immediately.
“Then we will file a resolution questioning that decision. The Committee (COWA) will thus be forced to agenda it,” she said in a text message. – Rappler.com
This story was republished with permission from The Sun-HK, a content partner of Rappler.
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