Maria Susana “Toots” Ople, the head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center that advocates the rights of laborers, was honored at the US State Department as a Trafficking in Person (TIP) hero.
US Secretary of State John Kerry gave the award during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington on June 19.
The TIP Hero Award, which is presented annually by the Department of State, recognizes individuals who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking.
“Through their efforts preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting offenders, TIP Heroes are at the forefront of the fight to end modern day slavery,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas Jr. congratulated Ople, commending her commitment to eliminate human trafficking in the Philippines.
“Her strong advocacy for the welfare of OFWs has made her a ‘nanay’ in the truest spirit of the word,” he added.
In accepting the award, Ople urged everyone to support the fight against modern day slavery.
“Human slavery affects everyone, not just the victims, because its very existence reminds us that not all are created equal. This award embodies the collaborative effort that the Ople Center has with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the media, our OFWs, and all of those who have entrusted us with information against trafficking in persons,” she said.
Ople vowed to carry on with her advocacy despite the risks involved.
She said the award comes with an even greater responsibility to step up and become an active voice in the global fight against human trafficking.
Kerry released the 13th annual TIP Report on June 19. As required by U.S. law, this is the most comprehensive report on governmental efforts worldwide to combat human trafficking.
As both a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for sex trafficking and forced labor, the Philippines remained at Tier 2 on the State Department’s three tier ranking system. Despite making significant efforts to combat trafficking, Manila does not yet fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the report said.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center specializes in labor and migration issues, particularly in the fight against human trafficking.
A member of the Harvard Club, Ople was presented the John F. Kennedy School’s Harvard Alumni Achievement Award in 2010 for her vigorous campaign against human trafficking.
Prior to founding the Policy Center, Ople worked as a consultant for the International Labor Organization, specifically focusing on a workers’ education project for female trade union leaders.
She also served as chief of staff for the Labor Undersecretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs and concurrently headed the presidential speechwriting team.
Ople is also active in broadcast and print media, as well as in several civil society groups. She hosts two public service radio programs focused on the plight of distressed Filipino migrants workers.
BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON