Migrant Workers chief Susan ‘Toots’ Ople dies at 61

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 22) — Susan “Toots” Ople, the first secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), died Tuesday. She was 61.

In a statement, the DMW said Ople passed away around 1 p.m. surrounded by her family and loved ones.

It has yet to disclose the cause of death.

“We shall be releasing more details soon. For the meantime, we ask for prayers for the eternal repose of the soul of our dear Sec. Toots,” DMW spokesperson Toby Nebrida said.

Ople bared that she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2019 and underwent breast surgery to remove the tumor in 2020.

In late July, she announced that she would take a two-week wellness leave from work following the deaths of her two elder brothers, former Hagonoy, Bulacan Mayor Felix “Toti” Ople and former journalist Blas Ople Jr., who both died from lung cancer.

Ople – who championed the rights of migrant workers — was appointed by Marcos last year to take the helm of the newly created DMW.

In 2020, the United Nations (UN) secretary-general also chose her as one of the five experts who would serve a three-year term in the Board of Trustees of the UN Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking.

She also founded the non-profit organization Blas Ople Policy Center, named after her father, the late Senate President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Fajardo Ople. In 1976, he initiated overseas employment as labor secretary under the administration of Ferdinand E. Marcos.

The center assists returning OFWs, including providing them with skills training to secure jobs.

“Secretary Toots Ople's legacy of service and advocacy will forever be etched in our hearts and minds. Her passion for social justice and unwavering commitment to migrant workers rights made a profound impact on our society,” the center wrote in a statement.

“Her memory will serve as a reminder that one person can make a significant difference in the world,” it added.

In 2013, Ople received the Trafficking in Persons Hero award from then US Secretary of State John Kerry.

She was also former labor undersecretary during the Arroyo administration. She ran twice for a Senate seat in 2010 and in 2016, but lost both bids.

Wake details

In a brief statement, the DMW said its secretary Ople’s wake will be held at Chapel 1 of the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City beginning on the afternoon of Wednesday until Tuesday, August 29.

“The Ople family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations to the Blas F. Ople Policy Center would be greatly appreciated,” it said.

“This way Sec. Toots' advocacy for migrant workers rights and welfare may continue and flourish.”