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Tributes pour in for Toots Ople, champion of Filipino migrant workers

MANILA, Philippines, August 24 ------ Migrant Work Secretary Susan Ople was a “tireless champion” of overseas Filipinos who answered the call of duty even as she battled cancer, and those mourning her death say they will remember the long years she toiled in service of others.

The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), which Ople led as its first secretary, confirmed that Ople passed away Tuesday afternoon. Ople shared in 2022 that her battle with breast cancer in 2020 was a “factor” in whether or not she would accept the position of DMW secretary.

In July, Ople took a leave of absence from work following the deaths of her two elder brothers—former Hagonoy Mayor Felix “Toti” Ople and former journalist Blas Ople Jr. Both died from lung cancer. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday mourned Ople’s passing, describing her as a “friend” and an “excellent” public servant who championed the country’s labor movement.

Life in service of others

Tech vlogger and Ople’s nephew, Carlo Ople, said that Susan Ople had personified a “purpose-driven life. She had a golden heart for service, especially for overseas Filipinos. She dedicated her life to that mission and was truly an inspiration for those who were blessed to work with her,” Carlo said in a Facebook post in tribute to Susan Ople. Lawmakers also mourned the passing of Ople. House Speaker Martin Romualdez said that migrant workers “lost a great champion” in Ople. “She was the first secretary of the department Congress had created to focus on attending to the welfare of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs),” Romualdez said. Ople was also a consistent advocate of protecting workers’ rights and took after her father in fighting for the labor movement, Romualdez said.

Susan's father, Blas Ople, was a renowned statesman who served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Labor during different points of his career and led the establishment of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. Susan named the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Center), a non-profit organization centered on OFW affairs, after him.

Rep. Ron Salo, chair of the House overseas workers affairs panel, said that Ople was a "dear friend and colleague" whose passion in protecting the welfare of OFWs will be "greatly missed." Rep. Camille Villar (Las Pinas) said that Ople's dedication to improving and delivering "no-nonsense" public service will "always be the yardstick in government work. With her work as head of an advocacy group and as chief-of-staff of her late father, she gained deeper and genuine understanding of the concerns of OFWs," Villar said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Ople was a "true public servant and ally" whose work had "extended far beyond the call of duty, as she tirelessly advocated for fair labor practices, better working conditions and the protection of the rights of OFWs." Sen. Koko Pimentel remembered Ople as a committed public servant who made the "DMW. truly the home of overseas Filipino," while Sen. Grace Poe said she had personally seen the "passion and dedication" of the DMW chief.

Senate President Miguel Zubiri similarly mourned Ople's passing and said that she had a "huge heart for our people." “She showed us that true leadership is about kindness and compassion, dedicating her life and her career to the least privileged and the least heard,” Zubiri said.



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