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Blas Ople’s legacy ‘lives on’ with Toots as DMW chief
CAMARINES Sur Representative and National Unity Party (NUP) president LRay Villafuerte has expressed confidence that the legacy of the late labor secretary and Senate President Blas Ople as the “architect” of the Philippine government’s overseas employment program will live on with the appointment of his daughter, Ma. Susana “Toots” Ople, as the first-ever head of the newly created Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).
The younger Ople had founded the Blas Ople Policy Center (BOPC), which provides assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially those who are being maltreated by their foreign employers.
She had been involved, too, in radio programs advancing OFW interests.
Villafuerte noted at a recent committee hearing of the Commission on Appointments (CA) that, “I’ve known her (Ople) for over ten years, and her heart and dedication for our countrymen, especially our migrant workers, is in her blood, in her heart, in her soul.”
“I’m sure the legacy your father Ka Blas instilled upon you, you will continue,” Villafuerte, who is CA majority leader, said during the hearing on Ople’s appointment by the CA Committee on Labor, Employment, Social Welfare and Migrant Workers that Bacolod City Rep. Greg Gasataya chairs.
Ople’s appointment was later approved on the same day by the CA en banc during its plenary session.
Villafuerte said, “Sinasabi ko po ‘to dahil ito po totoong nangyari, and I am very confident that the legacy, commitment of Ka Blas, who was kasama po ng aking ama sa Marcos cabinet. My father was secretary of Trade, at si Ka Blas po ay nasa kabinete (as labor secretary).
He was referring to his late father and former Bicol political kingpin, the late Luis Villafuerte Sr., who had served as governor and congressman of Camarines Sur and as trade secretary under the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr.
When Villafuerte Sr. was in the Marcos Cabinet, Blas Ople was also there as Secretary (and later Minister) of Labor and Employment.
The late Ople had served, too, as Senate President during the Estrada administration and foreign affairs secretary under the Arroyo administration, but his most enduring legacy is believed to be his crafting in 1976 of the overseas employment program, which has since been a major driver of the Philippine economy.
According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), personal remittances from both land-based and sea-based OFWs rose 4% last September to $3.15 billion.
To prop up the country’s overseas workforce, which now numbers an estimated 1.77 million, ex-labor secretary Ople created the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), along with the corps of labor attaches in Philippine embassies worldwide to support the overseas employment program.
“I just like to manifest that there is no better person to lead this newly created agency than the Honorable Secretary,” Villafuerte said of the younger Ople during the recent CA hearing, in which her appointment was confirmed along with the designation of former National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) chief Gamaliel Cordoba as chairman of the Commission on Audit (COA).
“I would just like to share with our colleagues and the public that even before she was appointed as secretary, she had already dedicated her life to the cause of our migrant workers,” he said.
The former Camarines Sur governor said, “Ako po mismo magsasabi, three or four years ago, meron po akong constituents na nangangailangan ng tulong sa abroad. Napakarami – Hong Kong, Riyadh, iba’t-ibang bansa. Ang tinatawagan ko po at hinihingian ng tulong para matulungan ang mga kababayan kong nangangailangan, hindi po ang Secretary ng Labor. Ang hiningian ko ng tulong, si Secretary Toots Ople.”
“And I am proud to say that na-aksyunan, natutulungan agad,” he said.
Villafuerte recalled that just recently, he had a constituent from Camarines Sur whose spouse died in Taiwan last Nov. 1. “Kulang-kulang isang buwan na po, hindi nakakauwi. Tinext ako ng asawa, ang sabi ko, ‘Tatawagan ko po si Secretary Toots Ople.’”
“Wala pang five minutes nag-aksyon na, tumawag na po sa akin ang asawa, tumawag na rin po ang Department of Migrant Workers, makakauwi na po sa kanyang asawa, at constantly naga-update kung ano ang nangyari,” he said.
Villafuerte added that, “Sinasabi ko po ‘to dahil ito po totoong nangyari… That is all, Mr. Chair, at gusto ko lang pong i-express ang aking one thousand and one support for Secretary Toots Ople.”