MANILA, Philippines (Update 1, 4:08 p.m.) — Susan “Toots” Ople, the secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers, has passed away, the agency said Tuesday. She was 61.
According to the DMW, Ople died at around 1 p.m. “surrounded by her family and loved ones.”
“We ask for prayers for the eternal repose of the soul of our dear Sec. Toots,” the department said, adding it will release more details soon. The cause of her death has not yet been disclosed.
Ople, who made a career championing the rights of overseas Filipino workers, was chosen in 2022 to lead the newly-created DMW, which is tasked to protect the rights and promote the welfare of migrant workers. The department performs all the powers and functions of seven merged agencies that cater to overseas Filipino workers.
Ople had earlier said that the DMW under her leadership will prioritize addressing welfare cases stemming from instances of abuse by foreign employers. She also said the agency aims to look into the effects of climate change on workers’ welfare, the lack of decent jobs in the Philippines, the issue of illegal recruiters, and the “feminization of labor migration.”
‘Champion for labor movement’
In 2004, Ople was appointed undersecretary of the Department of Labor and Employment. She also founded and led the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Center), a non-profit organization that handles labor and migration concerns.
Ople ran for senator in the 2010 and 2016 elections, but was unsuccessful.
She is the daughter of Blas Ople, who served as labor secretary for 19 years under the administration of dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. mourned the passing of Ople, whom he called a “great champion for the labor movement in the Philippines.”
“She dedicated her life, in every waking moment, to the welfare of laborers in general and migrant workers in particular. She was tireless in her pursuit to always support and find protection for our workers,” the chief executive said.
In July, Ople took a leave of absence from work following the deaths of her two elder brothers—former Hagonoy Mayor Felix “Toti” Ople and former journalist Blas Ople Jr. Both died from lung cancer.
Ople told TeleRadyo in 2022 that her battle with breast cancer in 2020 was a “factor” in whether or not she would accept the position of DMW secretary. — with report from Kaycee Valmonte