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The legacy of Secretary Toots Ople

When Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople was appointed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to be the first secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), I knew it was the most natural thing to do. If it’s about pursuing justice for and promoting the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the top of mind advocate will always be Secretary Toots. With her passing, she leaves a void not only in the DMW, but in the continuing fight for migrant workers’ rights.

Secretary Toots Ople’s unwavering dedication and tireless efforts have left an indelible mark on the lives of countless individuals across the globe. Her profound commitment to advocating for the rights, welfare, and protection of our modern-day heroes has been an inspiration to us all. Through her work, she brought hope, empowerment, and support to the hearts of OFWs, ensuring their voices were heard and their concerns addressed.

As secretary of DMW, she introduced policies that would have a huge impact on the protection of the rights and welfare of OFWs.

Among these are the new rules and regulations on the recruitment and employment of land-based OFWs. It included a list of things that should be avoided by recruitment agencies — such as acts of graft and corruption, including attempts to bribe DMW officials and personnel, as well as the recruitment and deployment of minors and underaged workers — lest their licenses could be cancelled.

Just last month, the DMW launched its digital OFW Pass, which replaces the traditional Overseas Employment Certification (OEC) with the QR code-based OFW pass. The DMW database and the system of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) are integrated so that the OFW Pass will serve as official documentation recognized by the immigration authorities during checks at the airport. OFWs no longer have to pay additional fees when they request their OEC using the new mobile application.

She pushed for the inclusion of qualified OFWs in the government’s housing program, the provision of financial literacy training courses for OFWs and their families, inclusion in the Department of Trade and Industry’s business training and development programs, among others.

For Secretary Toots, the protection and welfare of OFWs are of paramount importance. Her work on this advocacy has been decades-long. When she founded the Blas Ople Policy Center, she helped thousands of OFWs and their families through the Center’s programs for OFW assistance, anti-human trafficking, skills training, and peace and development efforts.

When she served beside her father, the late Senate President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople, she was introduced to the plight of migrant workers. When she founded the Ople Center, she became the bridge between OFWs and the government. When she became the first secretary of DMW, she introduced policies that aimed to finally address the decades-long concerns of OFWs. She has come full circle.

Secretary Toots Ople’s legacy will forever remind us of the immense sacrifices made by our OFWs and migrants, and the urgent need for comprehensive policies and support systems to safeguard their well-being.

We bid farewell to a true champion and guardian of our OFWs. But as we mourn the loss of an extraordinary leader, let us carry forward her torch of compassion, empathy, and resilience. Let us continue to unite, uplift, and advocate for the rights of our OFWs, ensuring that their invaluable contributions are recognized and respected.

Rest in peace, Secretary Toots Ople. Your memory will forever live on in the hearts of the Filipino people, both at home and abroad.

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