The Courage of Toots
The nation lost an outstanding public servant last week. Susan “Toots” Ople, champion of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Migrant Workers Secretary, protector of workers’ rights and friend to us all, passed away to join the Lord and her father, Ka Blas Ople, in heaven. It was a sad day because Toots had so much more to give in terms of public service. In many of our conversations, she had passionately outlined her plans to help the plight of Filipino migrant workers and more importantly, reduce the country’s dependence of labor export.
Do you know that feeling when you talk to someone and you can see in their eyes, in their gestures, in the tone of their voice just how serious they were about something? That is what I remember about Toots. That is what I admired the most about Toots. When she talks about migrant workers it is as if she was a lioness protecting her cubs. Promoting the welfare of Filipino workers was in her blood. It was in her name.
Toots was the proud daughter of former Senator and Labor Secretary Ka Blas Ople. I had the honor of working closely with Ka Blas when he was Secretary of the Foreign Affairs department and I sat as Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. I saw in Ka Blas what I would later see in Toots—fervent patriotism, unshakeable concern for the plight of OFWs, and, unparalleled dedication to public service.
So when I ran during the 2010 presidential elections, it was a no-brainer of a decision to include Toots in my senatorial slate. Our advocacies and our dreams for OFWs and the country just aligned. Prior to this, I had already worked closely with the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Center) on many cases involving OFW repatriation. Toots put up the Center not only to honor the memory of her father, who was recognized as the Father of Overseas Employment and the Father of the Philippine Labor Code, but also to honor the sacrifices and the courage of millions of OFWs.
It is fitting that Toots spent the remaining days of her beautiful life fighting for her lifelong mission—uplifting the lives of our migrant workers. She was appointed by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. to head an agency which I fought for during my days in the Senate — a cabinet-level office of the Department of Migrant Workers. I remember many people were against my proposal because it will simply duplicate the functions of existing agencies of government. But I argued that the needs of OFWs is so large that the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment are simply insufficient. We have millions of OFWs with different needs and what we had then simply was not enough. I believed that there was a need for an agency of government that will work full time for OFWs, with adequate funds, capabilities, and will not do other things.
And just like a movie director or a screenwriter who wrote a character in the script with a particular actor in mind, I could not think of anyone more fit to serve as Migrant Workers Secretary than Toots Ople. It was a match made in heaven.
And that is were Toots is going. The happy part of this sad news is that she will finally join the Lord in heaven and will be reunited with her father, who I am certain was very proud of her daughter. Toots dedicated every waking hour of her existence to fight for people who were at the margins of power. We can only honor her life by continuing her fight. We need to continue what she has done tirelessly and selflessly.
Paalam, Toots. You will be missed.