Success Stories by Atty. Jalilo Dela Torre

Kidapawan, North Cotabato
Chief Mate, 1988-present
Boarding House Operator, Farmer
“Mapanatag ang loob ko dahil sa kapatiran”
J. dela Torre
Buoy and Dhang sat closely to each other during the interview and held each other’s hands tightly. We were on the narrow passage way of the one-storey boarding house which they owned and which catered to students of the University of Southern Mindanao in Kidapawan. Above us, the drying laundry of the boarders hanged out like multi-colored banners. Behind us was a large dining area where a couple of boarders sat and watched, bemused by the proceedings, and on the opposite side was a common kitchen where boarders could cook their own food.
I noticed that when the narrative touched on something sad in the past, the couple stroked each other’s hand, giving comfort and encouragement, and as if telling each other, “It’s alright. I’m here now.”
Buoy had a very short barber’s cut, white sidewall, as the military calls it. His voice was firm and he spoke directly to the interviewer’s eyes. He had a burgeoning beer belly, and as newly-promoted Chief Mate, I thought he had to lose this extra fat. The work of a deck officer is relentless and taxing, and he had to be in tiptop shape. Dhang was petite and had smooth flowing hair, which complemented her fair complexion. The couple met in Manila when Buoy was buying something from the appliance store where Dhang worked.
The road to the campus was rough and gravelly, and a bit narrow. Kidapawan is still basically rich in agricultural foliage, its roads strewn with fruit trees, as well as rubber and coconut trees. It’s not called “The City of Fruits and Highland Springs” for nothing, the hot springs because of the city’s proximity to Mt. Apo.
“Maaga kaming naulila sa ama,” Buoy began, “apat kaming magkakapatid, puro lalaki.”
His father was an agriculturist who first taught in a public school before finding work in his chosen profession at the Bureau of Plant Industry, but who eventually retired at the Bureau of Agricultural Extension.
“Nakakaraos naman po kami,” Buoy answered when asked how his family’s socio-economic status was when his father was still alive. The old man passed away when Buoy was still in Grade 6. Buoy remembers his father as a strict disciplinarian, and it was from him that he learned the value of respect for others.
After his father’s passing, his mother took on the heavy responsibility of caring for and educating four sons. Because the family had to live on a teacher’s salary, they went through some very difficult times.
“Nakakain lang po kami ng kanin kapag suweldo ng Mama ko. Pagkatapos ng suweldo, balik kami sa bigas na mais. At madalas ang ulam namin ay tuyo lang,” Buoy pursed his lips and his voice faltered. The family tried to make both ends meet by raising and selling swine and selling iced candy, but the money was not enough. Buoy remembers suffering from delayed allowances when he was still studying for his marine transportation degree in Davao City.
He persevered and on 1988 he boarded his first ship, a general cargo ship, as an Ordinary Seaman. True to his word, and being the eldest child, Buoy supported his three brothers’ education, and all three are now professionals: the one next to him, is a nurse in Kuwait; the third child is a Marine Engineer now working in Japan after marrying a Japanese girl; the youngest is likewise a Chief Mate. While Buoy was roaming the world, Dhang took care of the kids, with the help of Buoy’s relatives and Church members, mga kapatiran, as he calls them. The couple and the children are active members of the Iglesia ni Kristo church in Kidapawan.
“Laging subaybay,” was how Dhang described her way of managing her children’s growing up years without their father by her side. It helped too that the children were active choir members of the Church.
Buoy was confident his savings were not being squandered. His wife did not spend what he sent as allotment, but she relied for their everyday expenses and the children’s school needs from earnings of their 16-room boarding house and internet businesses. His earnings as seaman were instead invested into purchasing commercial and agricultural real properties, and put away what was left in the bank. They also have a farm planted to bananas and corn, which is already earning, and another farm planted to rubber, which are still growing.
Now that his businesses are earning well, is it time for him to retire from seafaring?
“I’m one step closer to being in command of my own ship. So, I think I will continue to work as seafarer for a few more years to fulfill my own dream to be a ship captain and be able to save up more. We still have plans to expand our boarding house business. We have recently purchased a commercial lot near our present boarding house, and we will build our next boarding house here. Actually, we plan to build two more boarding houses,” Buoy disclosed their plans for the future as a couple. “When these two boarding houses are completed, who knows whether by then it is time to decide to retire,” he smiled for the first time in the interview. Dhang smiled too, and pressed her husband’s hands in approval.
To OFWs, he advises:
“Start saving as early as your first day on the job overseas. Invest your savings in the country. Our life as OFWs is difficult:
Dapat pag-aralan ang pagiging negosyante. Dapat sapat ang puhunan bago pumasok sa negosyo. Not everyone is suited for business. Not everyone is suited for a particular business. Just because one businessman has been successful in one kind of business doesn’t mean anybody can be successful in that business, too. Dapat pag-aralang mabuti ang papasukang negosyo.”
“Higit sa lahat, ihingi ng tulong sa Panginoon,” he concluded his peroration.
After the interview, we visited their modestly-sized house, where Dhang set about issuing instructions to a couple of houseboys to pick off a number of durian, rambutan and marang right off the branches, while we took shots of the family’s album pictures. After a hearty lunch at a well-appointed restaurant, we said our goodbyes and started our descent to Digos, and I was left wondering whether there was something about the Iglesia ni Kristo faith which made this family quite successful in business and family life. I emailed the couple and I found the answer to my question, and I’m paraphrasing from their emailed response:
“The Church values the integrity and solidarity of the family. Overseas employment is considered temporary, and members who find themselves abroad because of necessity are encouraged to save up and invest their savings in decent businesses, so that in the end the family is preserved and reunited.” (Source:

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    After stakeholders began to question the way business was run in private corporations, the responsibility to be transparent about business procedures began to extend to the way that manpower, particularly migrant workers, were being supplied to the corporations’ contractors and sub-contractors. Standards of ethical recruitment began to be developed in conjunction with some international labor conventions, and some NGOs, like Verite, and some international brands had begun to demand that these contractors and sub-contractors follow the standards for fear of being pulled out of the list of accredited suppliers. 

      Governments too have responded. Through an executive order signed by President Obama, the US federal government will no longer entertain business with entities which don’t follow ethical recruitment standards. The state of California has also demanded from companies doing business in California to show proof that ethical recruitment standards are being followed within their global supply chain.

      As a major labor-sending country, the Philippines has a large stake in ensuring that OFWs are recruited by manpower agencies, foreign recruitment agencies and by employers using ethical recruitment standards which ensure that our workers are not rendered vulnerable to human trafficking, forced labour and modern-day slavery. Currently, the Philippines is in the Tier 2 category of the Trafficking in Persons Report of the US Department of State. We do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but we are making significant efforts to bring ourselves into compliance with those standards. 

      The nexus between recruitment and human trafficking and forced labor is all too real and often glossed over. Practices in Middle Eastern countries hosting tens of thousands of domestic helpers include confiscation of passports and other travel papers, which is a form of coercion and one of the recognized means of perpetrating human trafficking. Another practice is contract switching, or contract substitution, which is another form of fraud, and a violation of the rules and regulations of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

     In  the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with the players in the recruitment business and Civil Society Organizations whose goals lend themselves to oversee the policies issued by the government in relation to overseas employment. I was one of those who was trained by Verite and by an ILO funded project, Decent Work Across Borders, under trainors Marie Apostol and Angel Tatlonghari.

      Since then, I’ve engaged with recruitment associations starting with the Australian and New Zealand Association of Employment Providers of the Philippines (ANZAEPP) which I’m proud to say is one of the strong exponents of Ethical Recruitment in the Philippines. Other groups which have been assiduously following our initiatives include PASEI, FMW under Jun Aguilar, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, KAMMPI, OFW Blog Awards, Philippine Human Rights Watch, PAMAJOR, the Global Filipino Movement, and many others. Recently, an Action Planning Workshop was organized with the help again of Marie Apostol and Angel Tatlonghari. The sectors represented—recruitment industry, government, and CSOs—each made a next-steps plan which will advance the cause of ethical recruitment in their own respective spaces.

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      We have likewise received many invitations from other recruitment associations, like PAMAJOR, a grouping of agencies deploying to Jordan, which not only wanted to know about ethical recruitment standards, but to find out how they are in relation to the standards, and what they ought to do to qualify to be verified and audited.

      We hope the trend will continue so that we could achieve a critical mass of players who are following the standards in a verifiable manner. The industry would then have achieved what tons and years of regulation hadn’t achieved—industry reform.

  • AN ETHICAL CHOICE by Atty. Jalilo Dela Torre

    If I were a marketing specialist of a Philippine placement agency, whose corporate goal is to deploy quality human resources to the best countries of destination, I’d focus on Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. The working conditions are much better than in the traditional labor markets our OFWs have long been going to, the labor dispute and human rights protection mechanisms are working well, and temporary migrants have real options to become permanent residents.
    To encourage more agencies to shift their focus and adopt ethical recruitment business processes, the government, particularly the POEA and OWWA, could offer incentives to agencies which have made the jump to ethical recruitment, and which have said no to deploying domestic workers. I’m happy that ANZAEPP, the group which I helped organize a few years ago, is a recognized leader in advancing the cause of ethical recruitment, and my prayer is that this ethical choice spread beyond the ranks of ANZAEPP.
    I’m not saying that in Australia and New Zealand, for example, there is no abuse of temporary migrants, because there are, just as there are incidence of migrant abuse in many so-called developed economies. The difference is that in these last two countries, the mechanisms of redress function more justly and more efficiently.
    It is interesting to study these Trans-Tasman cousins because their labor markets are tied to each other in many ways, aside from their cultural and historical ties. They have the same occupational code. Trade and professional qualifications are directly recognized in each other. More than half of New Zealanders who went abroad on a long-term basis during the last ten years “worked across the ditch”. But these were more likely to be trades, technical and machinery workers because of the income gap in these occupations between Australia and New Zealand.
    Like the United States, the UK and other OECD countries, factors such as demographic trends, technological advances and economic liberalization will affect the shape and size of the Australian and New Zealand workforce, their immigration policy and how sending countries should formulate their education and training programs and, in the case of recruitment firms, their marketing strategies.
    In New Zealand, the opportunities in its labor market are represented by the $40 billion Canterbury Rebuild after the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Clearly, this labor market is in need of construction and constructed-related workers. The POEA ought to now take advantage and issue a market-specific set of rules for deployment to New Zealand, something the market has probably been eager to receive.
    Considering the importance of English communication skills to candidates for these two markets, the successful recruitment agency would be the one who had a large pool of IELTS passers. Better still, an association of agencies, like the ANZAEPP, could initiate an IELTS review program for its candidates. Marketing missions planned by agencies to these two markets should demonstrate to potential principals their readiness to deploy candidates who are already IELTS-passed or IELTS-ready.
    How the Philippines will take advantage of these opportunities Down Under will depend on the quality of our higher education and technical and vocational graduates, and how our learning institutions are quick enough to ramp out new courses to take advantage of new technologies. Of special concern is communication skills, or English proficiency. We need to focus on core skills needed in a modernizing and liberalizing world: abstract analysis, communications, problem solving, and networking. It’s no longer a matter of nations competing with each other on the quality of its manpower, but on how these manpower are able to adapt to quickly evolving processes and technologies.
    (The opinions and views expressed herein are purely the author’s and do not reflect the official stand of the agency he works for.)

  • BEGGING IN MANILA by Atty. Jalilo dela Torre

    A few dozen paces from the corner of Lacson and Espana, there is a beggar who carries around her baby. When the traffic light turns red, she quickly makes her rounds of the vehicles, knocking on car windows and making the hand-feeding gesture, meaning she needed money so she and her baby could eat. Like many beggars lining the streets of Metro Manila, she looked dirty, harried and generally miserable, and her baby didn’t have a diaper on and looked like she hadn’t eaten for days.
    I drive through this route every evening on my way home, and I always see her and her baby. Not far from her spot, closer to the corner, there is another beggar who is in crutches, and hobbles from car to car, but I noticed that sometimes, he just doesn’t bother anymore. When the lights stop, from his spot on the dividing island, he peers through the windshield of the nearest vehicle and makes the same begging gesture. Perhaps, it is too physically difficult for him to beg from one car to another, and he has decided to just pin his hope on the car which happened to be closest at the moment the lights turned red. I always have spare coins tucked away for these two because of all the beggars who have knocked on my window, they seem the most miserable and therefore the most believable.
    Why has it come to this, when one has to question the motives of beggars in order to spare a few pesos? Why do we have to make these decisions, casual for you, but life-saving for the real beggar, when the act of begging itself is probably humiliating enough already for the beggar?
    For example, the carrying-the-baby act. We’ve read from newspapers that there are syndicates which actually deploy and control these beggars, “Oliver”-like, and that the baby was probably not hers, but was just a “prop” of some sort. Even so, I give whenever I am the closest vehicle, and even when I’m not, I toss a few coins out the window on the fly. I don’t really want to make analyses and assumptions every time a needy human being knocks, because for me, the act of begging itself is humiliating enough for me to question the beggar’s motives. It is not my place to judge, nor make distinctions. For me, beggars have already given up on a life of decency and dignity, and why add to their misery by making judgments about whether or not they are just unwitting tools of organized gangs?
    However, I put my foot down on children begging. It is not something which you ought to teach children. At the corner of Agham and North Avenue in Quezon City, children beggars are an everyday sight. Sometimes, they carry sampaguita leis to sell, or offer to wipe the dust off your car. Selling flowers I can understand. But offering to wipe the dirt off your car is a cheap tactic because no owner of a new and shiny car would agree to it, considering the danger of scraping. In serious cases, you’d have to have your car buffed or probably detailed to remove the scrape marks. Nobody is serious in believing that the small child beggar, about the height of my SUV’s front tire, could complete the job of “dry-cleaning” your car because of the limited time available at the traffic stop, but they do it anyway because they’re taking advantage of the owner’s fear of scraping. At the corner of General Luna and Padre Burgos in Intramuros, I scolded a girl aged around twelve not to wipe the car because it might damage the paint, but she boldly faced up to me, and demanded: “Then, you give me money if you don’t want your car damaged!” Good Lord, I thought, begging has become extortion.
    I’m particularly concerned about the child beggars of Agham. Since they just live nearby, the children have integrated begging into their play routine. They’d sit on the curbs and play around when there are no cars to beg from. They not only risk their life and limb. Their parents are probably openly encouraging them to beg. Is this a good thing to teach children? You want some money to spend at school tomorrow? You better beg. Instead of teaching them the value of hard work, these children are being told if you want something in life, you’d have to go out and take it.
    Why do I make the distinction? The adult beggars have already taken their shot at life, and they have obviously failed, and they now face the reality of shame every time they go out to the streets. These are the people who need my help. The children, though they need my help, too, should never be allowed on the streets because of the danger to their safety, but should be in their homes studying or playing. They still have a long way to go, and they should as they grow up be armed with the values of hard work, patience, honesty, fairness and respect for others—so that they need not beg again for. the rest of their lives.

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