Susan "Toots" Ople, the first secretary of the newly-created Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), has died at the age of 61.
In a Facebook post, the agency said that Ople passed away at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
"Secretary Toots peacefully joined our Creator at around 1PM today, August 22, 2023 surrounded by her family and loved ones," the caption read.
The DMW said it would release more details in the coming days, while asking for prayers for the bereaved family. "We shall be releasing more details soon. For the meantime, we ask for prayers for the eternal repose of the soul of our dear Sec. Toots. We ask as well for prayers for the Ople family."
The cause of Ople's death was not released, but she had been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2020. This was one of the reasons why she initially declined the Cabinet post. She underwent surgery on February 26 of that year and was later declared cancer-free, but she continued to undergo active treatment.
Ople, a staunch advocate of labor rights for overseas Filipino workers, founded the non-profit organization Blas Ople Policy Center, named after her father, the late Senate President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Fajardo Ople, who in 1976 initiated overseas employment as labor secretary under the administration of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
In late July 2023, she announced that she will take a two-week leave of absence from work following the deaths of her two elder brothers, ex-Hagonoy mayor Felix "Toti" Ople and former journalist Blas Ople Jr. due to lung cancer.
Ople was named DMW Secretary and vowed to take care of not just the OFWs themselves but their families as well.
Prior to her stint as DMW Chief, Ople was the first Filipino to sit on the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking.
She also ran for senator in 2016 under Nacionalista Party but failed to win a seat.