MANILA: Susan “Toots” Ople, a labor rights advocate who spearheaded the Philippine government’s efforts to protect overseas Filipino workers, died on Tuesday aged 61.
Ople was the first secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers, a government agency formed last year to protect and promote the welfare of some 2 million Philippine nationals working abroad.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who appointed Ople to the role, mourned her passing, saying she was a “champion for the labor movement in the Philippines” and had “dedicated her life” to the welfare of workers.
“It’s very, very sad news. I have lost a friend; the Philippines has lost a friend,” Marcos told reporters.
“It is a great loss to the Philippines for the service we know she could still have rendered.”
Ople served as undersecretary of the Department of Labor and Employment in 2004-2009, and founded the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute — a nonprofit named after her father, a former labor minister. The institute assists overseas Filipino workers.
With degrees from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, and the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, US, Ople in 2020 became the first Philippine national to sit on the Board of Trustees of the UN Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking.
Ople was also a former columnist for Arab News, contributing op-eds from Manila in the 2010s.
The cause of her death was not immediately clear. In late July, she took a wellness break to grieve the passing of her two brothers, both of whom died of cancer in a span of five days.
When she died on Tuesday afternoon, Ople was “surrounded by her family and loved ones,” the Department of Migrant Workers said in a statement.
As condolences poured in, Ople was remembered especially by those to whom she had dedicated her service.
Ople was “incorruptible” and “guided by the principle of ethical and fair recruitment,” Arnold Mamaclay, president of the Philippine Employment Agencies and Associates for Corporate Employees in the Middle East, or PEACEME, told Arab News.
“In her one-year tenure as secretary, she had accomplished a lot, so this is really a great loss to the department,” he said. “I think she left a good legacy.”
Art Los Banos, a Filipino manager working in the UAE, also recognized Ople’s efforts.
She was a “square peg in a square hole who was destined to lead the DMW with her track record on promoting the welfare of OFWs, as well as defending their rights,” he said. “May she rest in eternal peace.”
Mario Balboa, chairman emeritus of the Philippine Council of Engineers and Architects in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that Ople’s passing was a “great loss” to all Filipino migrant workers.
“Her passion, drive and dynamism to help, support and provide assistance to all OFWs and their families was second to none,” he said.
“Rest in peace, madam secretary. You will be dearly missed.”