Cabinet relatives assigned as labor attachés

Patty Pasion

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Cabinet relatives assigned as labor attachés
At least 3 labor attachés recently appointed to coveted foreign posts are relatives of Cabinet members

All in the family? Recent appointees to one of DOLE’s most important positions are relatives of Cabinet secretaries, Rappler has learned.

Appointed as labor attaché II, these appointees will head the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) Canada and Italy. 

POLOs handle matters such as violation of work contracts, provision of temporary shelter for OFWs, medical and hospital assistance, and repatriation of workers, among others.

Young lawyer Haney Lynn Gerona Siclot will be deployed to the POLO in Rome, Italy. Siclot and her family’s Facebook posts show that she is a niece of  the wife of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Regina Gerona.

Asked about it, Bello said during a press briefing in Malacañang on March 31 that Siclot is a distant relative of his wife. 

Celeste Marie Tulfo Ramos – another attaché appointed under the new administration – is a niece of Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo, a source close to the Tulfos said.  

BusinessMirror photo posted on October 16, 2016, named Ramos as one of the executives of the Department of Tourism. She is now the new attaché to Toronto, Canada. 

A different set of documents, meanwhile, showed that a certain Romeo Garzon was appointed to the same post and is due to serve in Washington DC. Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza described Garzon as his “friend and relative in the US” in an article he wrote for MindaNews published on August 3, 2011.

At the same Palace news briefing, Bello said Garzon is Dureza’s nephew. He confirmed he was eyed for the post but his deployment was rejected because he had dual citizenship.

“[The] nephew of Secretary Dureza is a very qualified person. But then unfortunately, I think his deployment was rejected and that was probably my mistake, because I did not know that he was also a dual citizen. They found out he was a dual citizen. I think out of decency, he resigned,” said Bello. 

But Garzon’s name appeared among the list of new labor attachés to be presented during the event organized by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute last April 6. 

Rappler wrote to the International Labor Affairs Bureau, the DOLE agency handling attachés, asking documentary proof of Garzon’s resignation but we have yet to receive a response. 

Choice assignments

While their resumés say they fulfill the required two to 3 years of work experience to become attachés, it seems there’s an issue with their deployment to so-called choice posts. 

In the attachés’ circles, Italy, US, and Canada are regarded as “kind” posts, together with Japan, Spain, and Switzerland because there are less OFW problems there than in the Middle East.  

There are no hard and fast rules that require attachés to go through the harder assignments first since assignments are given at the discretion of the secretary.

However, a department administrative order says that attachés should first render two years of service in the department’s central office before being given an assignment abroad.

DOLE Administrative Order No. 101, series of 2011, requires “at least 3 years of residency in government service, two years of which have been served at the DOLE or its attached agency.”

A former labor executive and sources from DOLE and OFW monitoring groups said no order has repealed or superseded this rule, but it has not been strictly implemented. The two-year service requirement had also been observed by past administrations.

“[It is] one way of ensuring that, at least during those times, the office should be able to measure the performance of the person,” said a former labor official Rappler talked to. 

“Some of them are really lining up for deployment because they feel that they [need] a different environment. But you have to prove your worth, that you are worth the deployment,” the official added. 

Garzon was appointed in December, 2016 while Ramos and Siclot were appointed in January this year.

The AO, however, gives the labor secretary flexibility to deploy new appointees in the “exigency of service” or depending on the needs of the posts.

Bello explained that the deployment is based on the different needs of the post.

For example, he said, there is now a need to appoint one in Toronto because of the increasing number of caregivers in Canada. There also came the need to deploy someone to Washington DC because the attaché there was reassigned to Singapore, which is considered one of the toughest posts. 

Coveted position

Being a labor attaché is a sought after post in the labor department. Equivalent to a director II position in the department, an attaché I or II has a salary grade (SG) of 19 to 25.

Based on the updated Salary Standardization Law, SG 19 starts at P36,409 and reaches up to P50,702 after 4 years. SG 25 starts at P67,520 and could reach up to P106,493.

Aside from the salary, Administrative Order 168 or the POLO manual specified the following perks that attachés are entitled to:

  • Diplomatic passport
  • cash gift and year-end bonus
  • overseas allowance 
  • living quarters allowance
  • family allowance ($1,800 per annum for spouse, $900 per annum for each minor child) 
  • clothing allowance (not exceeding $400 dollars in a year)
  • health care and medical services
  • educational allowance  ($1,000 per school year for each child) 
  • death benefits

Balancing the politics of governance to get their desired assignments is a reality they face, two former DOLE officials said. 

At the end of the day, it all depends on the leadership to appoint who is deemed fit to serve the country’s migrant workers, with politics and personal ties as obvious factors. – with a report from Pia Ranada/ 

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.