HONG KONG – When Philippine Labor Attaché Manuel Roldan leaves Hong Kong at the end of his tour of duty on September 27, he will be bringing with him an extra load of baggage.
Last September 7, in front of dozens of people, mostly members of the Filipino community in Hong Kong, Consul General Bernardita Catalla announced that Roldan was being investigated for alleged misconduct in office.
What made the announcement even more devastating for the embattled attaché was that his own boss, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, was at the gathering, called initially to unveil job opportunities back home for overseas Filipino workers.
Catalla said 4 issues relating to Roldan’s alleged misconduct were being investigated, but she did not cite specifics.
However, she indicated that the allegations, contained in a letter sent to the consulate, were serious enough to warrant an investigation by an internal fact-finding committee.
Once the committee completes its investigation, Roldan will be given a copy for his comments, after which the results would be sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs for transmittal to DOLE.
“But the Philippine Consulate General (PCG) will conduct its own investigation,” she stressed.
Baldoz said her office was ready to look into the matter, “kung na-involved si Labatt, and documented na in form and substance.”
But she gave assurances Roldan will be given “due process.”
Roldan, who acted as moderator at the forum, merely shook his head when his boss asked if he wanted to comment.
Consulate insiders also say he has not responded to Catalla’s memo asking him to respond to the allegations.
In the letter, sent anonymously to a few leaders in the Filipino community, it is alleged that Roldan had ignored a 12-year freeze on the accreditation of employment agencies at the Hong Kong post for monetary gain.
More than 100 new accreditations have reportedly been made during his 3-year term, from which Roldan allegedly received HK$40,000 (P220,000 and US$4,941) for each listing. That is a whopping HK$4 million (P20 million or US$449,237) at least if true.
The letter also alleged that Roldan had partnered with a Hong Kong-based recruiter to set up a training center for OFWs in their hometown of Davao.
“Based on the above, is it Mr Roland’s intention to get more accreditation (and more money) before his term ends this year?” the anonymous letter-writer asked.
To back up the claim of unjust enrichment against Roldan, the writer mentioned a “brand new” BMW car that his wife had reportedly bragged about on Facebook, as well as her apparent penchant for designer bags.
(While Roldan has kept mum on the allegations, his wife Arlene has angrily lashed back on Facebook. Posting a picture of a white-colored BMW, she went on to say: “Hey, this car is from Rome, Italy, bought in 2008 at a very low price that a labor attaché like my husband can afford from our very own pocket. To you who is claiming to be anonymous, just let us know if you want to see the documents – it’s not bought here in Hong Kong, g—- (expletive)!”)
Roldan’s woes did not only come from the mystery letter, however. More recently, talks started circulating in the community that his driver, Donald Retirado, who is also on DOLE’s payroll, had been allowed to set up an employment agency, on top of a remittance business he and his wife were already operating.
Worse, the two businesses were being run right at the consulate’s doorstep in the swanky United Center building in Admiralty district.
Bolstering the allegation were copies of the business registration certificates of the companies which were in the name of Retirado’s daughter, Frances, and which have been turned over to the consulate’s investigating team.
Retirado, with the apparent consent of Roldan, also reportedly managed to get a female friend who used to be a domestic helper/driver, hired by POLO. Consulate insiders said it took a lot of work to convince Immigration to agree to the change of status for Retirado’s friend.
Retirado himself was a domestic worker/driver who was helped into becoming a DOLE local hire about 12 years ago by the then labor attaché, Dante Ardivilla.
Inaction in illegal fee case
Yet another headache for Roldan is the claim by a group of OFWs and the religious leaders helping them that the labor attaché had dragged his feet on a case involving the grossly illegal acts by the owners of a Hong Kong-based agency.
The workers claimed they first sought the help of Roldan’s office in getting back the HK$21,000 (US$2,709) charged from each of them by the Satisfactory Employment Agency, but did not get immediate results. After waiting for 6 months, they were told at a conciliation meeting that nothing could be done for them as the agency owner had denied their claim.
Some of the workers claimed in their affidavits that the mother of the agency owner had bragged about being friends with Roldan.
With help from Christian bishop Gerry Vallo and the assistance to nationals section, the workers eventually managed to get a hearing with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who in turn referred them to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in Manila.
Both the POEA and the Hong Kong labor authorities have now taken up their cases. POEA has placed Satisfactory and its Manila counterpart, Findstaff, under preventive suspension, while it conducts hearings on the illegal fee claim. If the charge sticks, both agencies could lose their license and be ordered to pay compensation to the complainants.
In Hong Kong, Satisfactory and its owner are set to appear in court shortly on 3 counts of violating labor laws.
Meanwhile, the deafening silence from Roldan’s camp was broken recently by another startling Facebook post from his wife, who sought to deny purported reports that her husband had passed on the night before, right after he faced his accusers at the consulate.
“Your beloved LabAtt is alive and kicking – thanks to God – he is now in the office – still working in the service of overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong…” she said.
Roldan is due to be recalled to the home office later this month at the end of a standard 6 years tour of duty abroad. He spent the first 3 years in Rome and the last 3, in Hong Kong. – Rappler.com
The author is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist.
*(US$1 = P44.52; US$1 = HK$7.75)
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