The Philippine minister for migrant workers passed away on Tuesday, the Department of Migrants Workers (DMW) has confirmed.
In a statement, DMW said, "It is with great sadness that the Department of Migrant Workers announces the passing of our dearest Secretary Susan 'Toots' Ople. (She) peacefully joined our creator at around 1pm (9am UAE time) today, August 22, 2023, surrounded by her family and loved ones."
DMW did not mention the cause her death, but Ople, who was named by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as the first secretary (minister) of the newly-created DMW in 2022, had been battling breast cancer. She went on medical leave last month.
Ople was the founder of the Blas F. Ople Policy Centre and Training Institute (Ople Centre), an advocacy group on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that was named after her father, former Senate president Blas Ople, who also served as labour minister during the administration of Marcos Jr.'s late father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who was deposed by People Power in 1986.
With a strong legacy in advocating migrant workers’ rights, Ople was the first Filipino to sit in the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking. She earned her academic degrees from the University of Santo Tomas and the Harvard Kennedy School.
She ran for senator in 2016 but failed to win a seat. In May 2022, she accepted the post as DMW chief with earnest pledge not only to take care of the protection of OFWs but of the families they left behind in the Philippines as well.
One of the thrusts of Ople at DMW was to make the department paperless, including making the erstwhile overseas employment certificate (OEC) – a mandatory travel document for OFWs leaving the Philippines – digital.
In a statement sent to Khaleej Times, Philippine ambassador to the UAE Alfonso Ver said, “On behalf of the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines, I convey my most sincere condolences and sympathies to the bereaved family of Secretary Ople. Her whole life was dedicated to championing the rights and welfare of Filipino workers overseas through her official duties as well as NGO (non-governmental organisation) advocacies. We lost a real hero today of the OFW cause. May she rest in peace.”
Filipino migrant workers group, Migrante-International, also expressed their deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Ople.
Migrante said, “Secretary Toots had a long and respectable record of NGO work and advocacy for migrant Filipinos. Recognising it was productive for the government to listen to grassroots organisations, families, and advocates of migrants, she engaged in dialogue on concrete measures to alleviate the plight of OFWs and migrant Filipinos.”
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