Toots Ople

Toots Ople wanted OFW cancer fund as last legacy program – daughter

Michelle Abad

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Toots Ople wanted OFW cancer fund as last legacy program – daughter

GRIEVING. Estelle Ople Osorio, daughter of the late Migrant Workers Secretary Toots Ople, speaks at her motheru2019s wake at Heritage Memorial Park, Taguig, on August 24, 2023.

Michelle Abad/Rappler

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri says he will look into creating a P100 million cancer endowment fund under the name of the late DMW Secretary Toots Ople

MANILA, Philippines – One of the last programs that the late Migrant Workers Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople wanted to pursue before she retired was a cancer fund for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), her daughter revealed.

On Thursday, August 24, the second day of Ople’s wake, her daughter Estelle Ople Osorio mentioned one of her mother’s wishes after the Senate presented to their family a resolution honoring the secretary.

Ople died on Tuesday, August 22, due to cardiac arrest resulting from complications from various conditions. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery in February 2020, though in July 2022 she said that she was still undergoing treatment despite being cancer-free.

Osorio, speaking at her mother’s wake, said that a week before her mother passed, the latter reflected on the difficulties of getting treatment for cancer.

“Ang hirap magkaroon ng cancer, pero ’buti tayo, kahit papano, kinakaya natin ’yung gastos. Mas mahirap kung wala. Paano ’yung mga wala? Paano ’yung mga OFWs na wala?” said Osorio, quoting her mother. (Having cancer is so hard. But, good thing for us, we have the ability to pay for it. It would be harder if we didn’t. How about those who don’t have resources? How about the OFWs who don’t have resources?)

“So she told me that when she gets back from her wellness leave, she would talk to the DOH (Department of Health) or she would like to look at how we can create a cancer fund for OFWs…and that was going to be her legacy before she planned to retire by December,” said Osorio.

Unable to hold back tears, Osorio appealed to the senators present at the wake if they could honor her mother’s wishes.

“I’m appealing to the Senate na (that) if that would be my mom’s legacy, that that was the last thing that…she wanted to happen…if that’s something that you can help us with, that would be so amazing,” she said.

The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) announced on July 25 that Ople was going on a two-week wellness leave after the consecutive deaths of her two brothers, journalist Blas Ople Jr. and former Hagonoy mayor Felix “Toti” Ople.

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Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri gave a short tribute to Ople before presenting the family Senate Resolution No. 83, expressing the sympathy and condolences of the Senate over Ople’s passing.

“Even as secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers she preferred to lead a lowkey life committed to the unglamorous behind-the-scenes work of helping those most in need. Having learned from years of work under the department of labor and employment and the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, she was the rightful choice to head the DMW,” said Zubiri.

Zubiri also noted how Ople’s confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments was “one of the fastest” hearings conducted, and that the sponsorship speeches in support of her were even longer than the deliberations.

Asked by reporters how Zubiri responded to Osorio after her speech in the chapel, the Senate President said that he would find a way with Senate finance committee chair Senator Sonny Angara to create an endowment fund for indigent cancer patients under Ople’s name.

“Unfortunately, she passed away before she could see this to fruition…so the Senate will spearhead the fund. And I think, last night, they also spoke to Speaker Martin [Romualdez], which Romualdez also accepted, so that we will be able to provide a big fund,” Zubiri said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Zubiri initially pegged the cancer endowment fund at P100 million, which would be tackled in the ongoing 2024 budget season. He said that the department or agency to which the fund will be allotted would still have to be finalized.

Zubiri added that the next DMW secretary had big shoes to fill when undergoing the confirmation process.

“I’m praying that the President will choose somebody who will be at least equal to the task of Secretary Toots Ople…. I’m hoping the next appointment will be someone who is as dedicated, as passionate, and as compassionate as her. At siyempre, kung hindi, dadaan pa sa Commission on Appointments ‘yan,” he said. (And of course, if they do not [live up to the standard], they would have to go through the Commission on Appointments.)

The advocacy group I Can Serve Foundation, which promotes and conducts breast cancer control programs, paid tribute to Ople,”whose life of service rose way above personal and medical challenges.” In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the foundation said, “She inspired us all to bear our crosses with dignity, humility, and faith in the Almighty.” –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.