From advocate to Cabinet member: Toots Ople accepts Marcos offer to head OFW dept

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 24 2022 10:25 AM | Updated as of May 24 2022 12:20 PM

Susan 'Toots' Ople at the 10th Regional Media Seminar hosted by the United States Embassy. US Embassy Manila/File
Susan "Toots" Ople at the 10th Regional Media Seminar hosted by the United States Embassy. US Embassy Manila/File

MANILA (UPDATE) — Former labor undersecretary and overseas Filipino worker advocate Susan "Toots" Ople on Tuesday confirmed that she has accepted the offer of incoming President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. to head the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

Ople said she met with Marcos and incoming Labor Secretary Benny Laguesma on Monday.

"I’m coming in more so as a specialist in my field and also perhaps as someone who has a father for her idol throughout her life and would like to do justice to the legacy he left behind," Ople told ANC's Headstart.

"I want to change the narrative of the OFW. Right now di pa umaalis ang tingin na sa kanya (they haven't left and they're already thought of as a) welfare case. I would like them to leave as dignified as possible. It’s an informed choice, not a rash decision. It’s an informed choice to make with the family," she continued. 

When asked if she had second thoughts about accepting the offer due to the Marcos family's history with the Filipino people, she said: "Wala eh kasi ang nasa isip ko lang (no because) I've been very open."

"Two years ago I had breast cancer. I told this to Atty. Vic [Rodriguez], our President. What weighed also on my mind was what Fr. Jerry Orbos said, he would say especially to his cancer-mates--he said the rest of your life, the best of your life," Ople said. 

"I think I'm at that point where I want to give the best in me for the sector I have loved all these years."

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Ople was among congressional resource persons who pushed for the creation of the DMW in the 18th Congress, saying having several agencies handle OFW issues has caused red tape. 

"The reason why we are pushed as the stakeholders for the DMW is to unify all actions, all decisions, all policies related to our OFWs," she said in a congressional hearing in April 2022.

The newly-created DMW is expected to operate in 2023.

In the next 6 months, Ople said she would prioritize consulting with stakeholders.

"I want to have a co-creation phase with our stakeholders. Second, I want to review the systems in place. Why is it difficult for good employers to get Filipinos in the same way that bad employers--sometimes they have an easier time to get workers," she said.

"We also need a performance review. Those who have made it a business to receive gifts. I have to lead by example just like my dad did... I've been telling people, watch my back. 'Yun ang prayer ko talaga (That's my prayer really)--not to lose my moral compass."

Ople is the daughter of late foreign affairs secretary Blas Ople, who worked as the labor secretary during the administration of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. that was toppled by a 1986 peaceful revolution. 

Since her father's demise, Toots Ople founded and headed the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Center), a non-profit organization that focuses on upholding migrant workers’ rights and welfare.

Ople, who graduated from the University of Santo Tomas and the Harvard Kennedy School, was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, the first Filipino to hold the post.

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

In 2020, Ople said that she was battling stage 2 breast cancer.

— With reports from Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News