Toots Ople: The star of OFWs
She isn’t a celebrity but she’s considered a star by millions of Overseas Filipino Workers and their families.
Today’s installment of the T-Zone’s ongoing “Lights, camera, boto!” series is all about a lady named Susan “Toots” Ople who is running for the senate.
If her name doesn’t ring a bell to younger readers, her surname certainly will to more senior ones. Her late father is Ka Blas Ople, the celebrated newsman, senate president, Labor and Foreign Affairs secretary, all around statesman, and Father of the Philippine Overseas Employment Program and the Philippine Labor Code.
Those who knew Ka Blas would also definitely know that Toots had worked closely with him. She served as his chief of staff for many years, and naturally imbibed everything her father stood for. As such, when he passed away in 2003, the youngest among the Ople brood took on their father’s pro-worker and pro-OFW advocacies.
“Yung tatay ko po kargador sa pier sa North Harbor nung bata pa siya. Hindi siya nakatapos ng kolehiyo ngunit naging constitutional commissioner siya, liban pa po sa iba’t ibang posisyon na pinagsilbihan niya sa gobyerno,” Toots proudly and lovingly recalled when she met the showbiz press at a luncheon gathered by her celebrity endorser, Dennis Padilla.
(We’ll get to why and how the comedian came to support the senatorial candidate a little later).
According to Toots too, her earliest memories as a child when they were living in Project 6, Quezon City was to wake up to a living room full of laborers day in and day out, who sought her father’s help to deal with the endless issues they faced.
“Ang laging sinasabi niya, tratuhin daw ng mabuti ang mga laborers natin at mga domestic helpers dahil nakakatulong sila sa bayan,” continued Toots. “Kaya po noon pa man, tumatak sa aming pamilya na ang bawat manggagawa ay may dignidad at karapatan bilang tao at bilang pillars of our economy. Yan po ang palaging sinasabi ni Ka Blas, at yon po ang namana ko sa kanya, kaya’t hindi ako nagdalawang isip na ipagpatuloy ang legacy niya sa pagtulong sa OFWs sa pamamagitan ng Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.”
Wherever Ka Blas is right now, he is sure to be proud of her daughter who has been living up to his name in helping Filipinos abroad, especially in rescuing victims of human trafficking and slavery. Proof of this is an award bestowed on her by US Department of State Secretary John Kerry in 2013 as a “Hero Against Modern Day Slavery, as well as an Alumni Achievement Award from Harvard University’s John F, Kennedy School of Government where she took her masters.
“Ang tingin ko po sa bawat OFW ay miyembro ng pamilya namin dahil sa environment na kinalakihan ko at namana ko mula sa aking ama,” Toots related.
Explaining why she has decided to follow her father’s footsteps to the Senate, although quite belatedly in her career in public service, Toots said, “Tumatakbo po ako sa senado dahil po sa mga OFWs na mismong nag-udyok sa akin na gawin ito through a campaign on social media. Nung una po hesistant ako, pero napag-isipan ko po at ang sa akin naman, there are 12 seats that need to be filled in the senate. Hindi naman po siguro kalabisan na isa sa mga iyon ay maibigay sa isang taong hubog sa mundo ng OFW at sa mundo ng manggagawa. There has to be something worthy to have one seat reserved for an OFW advocate.”
Sat beside Toots as she talked about her bid, Dennis—who also dabbled in politics as city councilor of Caloocan some years bag—took the opportunity to explain why he is endorsing Ka Blas’ daughter.
“Sa panahon ngayon, halos lahat po ng Pilipino ay may kamag-anak na nagtra-trabaho sa ibang bansa. Apat po ang aking kapatid na OFW at nakita ko po ang totoong pagtulong ni kapatid Toots sa kanila at sa mga katulad nilang nangibang bansa.
“Maliban po doon, nakita ko rin po kung gaano po ka-simple ang pamumuhay ni Toots—wala ho siyang mga alahas, magarang kotse—kaya’t serbisyo po talaga ang hangad niya.”
Dennis confirmed then and there that Toots is considered a star by countless OFWs he had met through the years, having pledged to host gatherings organized by the Blas Ople Center for the country’s modern day heroes.
“Sila po mismo ang gumagawa ng paraan para makatulong sa kapanya ni Toots—from the Internet hanggang sa pondo at paggawa ng mga banners—dahil alam nila na talagang makakatulong ang mga plano niya para sa kanila at sa mga pamilya nilang iniiwan dito sa Pilipinas,” he added.
According to Toots, she seeks to end contractualization, fight age discrimination in the workplace, establish a hospital for OFWs, and strengthen services for the victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
“The problems of OFWs are also the problems of every Filipino—very low wages, very high prices of commodities, worries about the security of their loved ones, not enough money to take care of the health needs of loved ones,” she enumerated.
“Slow internet is also a problem in the Philippines—ang hirap mag-emote ang isang mag-asawa over Skype tapos biglang mawawalan ng signal yung nasa Pilipinas. Bitin tuloy ang lambingan!” she added laughing.
No wonder the OFWs love her, and no wonder Toots Ople is the lone senatorial candidate endorsed by five presidential bets.
As her showbiz connection Dennis Padilla puts it, “Toots is really a star.”
Next on Lights, camera, boto!: Vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo.