Toots Ople says battle with cancer a factor in accepting Marcos Cabinet post

Katrina Domingo and Rowegie Abanto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2022 02:14 PM | Updated as of May 18 2022 05:21 PM

OFW representative Susan Toots Ople shows her certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Election on Oct. 15, 2015. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File 
OFW representative Susan Toots Ople shows her certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Election on Oct. 15, 2015. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File 

MANILA (UPDATE) — Migrant-worker rights advocate Susan "Toots" Ople said Wednesday her battle with cancer was "definitely a factor" in whether or not she would accept a post in the Cabinet of presumptive president Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Marcos's camp on Tuesday confirmed Ople was being eyed to lead the Department of Migrant Workers. 

Ople disclosed that she was diagnosed in 2020 with stage 2 breast cancer, for which she undergoes chemotherapy and PET scans.

"That will be a lifelong concern, to be honest about it, whether I accept the job or I don't accept the job... Sa akin kasi panata ko na 'yung to serve our OFWs in whatever capacity so definitely it's a factor, alam ni president-elect 'yun, ni Atty. Vic [Rodriguez]," Ople told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo. 

(For me it's already my calling to serve out OFWs in whatever capacity so definitely it's a factor. The president-elect and Atty. Vic know it.)

Rodriguez is the spokesman of Marcos Jr. He also heads the Marcos transition team.

"That's why I'm also praying for His guidance, but definitely I've always led a mission-driven life... where God leads me I'll be there I'll follow," Ople added.

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Ople is the daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople. She heads a non-profit organization that is named after her father and deals with labor and migration issues.

Ople said she met with Marcos at his Makati City residence last Friday, during which he offered her the DMW leadership. 

"It was a warm, and inspiring meeting. He spoke about the need to get the new department up and running, and for it to care for our OFWs and also develop programs for their families especially the children of migrant workers,” she said in a statement. 

“Given his kind offer for me to return to public service, I am now in a process of discernment and consultations – because I am aware of the enormity of the task and the challenges involved,” added Ople. 

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In a subsequent interview on ANC's Dateline Philippines, Ople said she wanted to consult migrant worker groups and other stakeholders before deciding whether or not she would join the Cabinet of Marcos Jr.

"I have scheduled meetings with key stakeholders to firm up my decision," she said, noting that the Marcos camp has not issued a deadline for her to make up her mind.

"I just want to make sure that I would really be able to contribute, especially because this is a department that will be built from ground zero," she said. 

"I just have to make sure that stakeholders are comfortable if and when I do accept."

Ople noted that she has known Marcos Jr. for years, but was told that she is being considered for the job "because of [her] expertise and specialization."

"That alone speaks of the kind of man and leader that he is," she said.

"That already tells a lot that we will have a professional, accountable and cohesive government."

Despite her nearly 2-decade experience in pushing for migrant workers' rights, Ople said she has to carefully decide on the Cabinet offer.

"It really is an opportunity frought with many challenges. I have to enter this with my eyes wide open," she said.

"Putting together several agencies under one roof with each agency having its own culture... it will take a lot," she said.

Among the issues Ople expects to tackle as DMW chief include the "huge increase" in PhilHealth membership fees and the deployment ban to Saudi Arabia.

"Mahirap (Difficult) may be an understatement," Ople said.

"I have never been timid about pursuing a mission to help our OFWs. Parang panata ko na yan sa buhay. Whether or not I accept it, the mission and the fight continues," she said.

"I just want to be responsible, introspective and consultative about it."

When asked how she plans to rule the DMW under a politically polarized environment, Ople said she plans to govern the department through "leadership by example."

"Showing everyone that this is a job that needs to be professionally done," she said.

"Just to stay humble and always open to all kinds of ideas, the spirit of patriotism will prevail. At the end of the day, we all love our country."

Ople ran for senator in the 2016 elections but failed to land in the top 12.