Sunday, November 15, 2009

Susan Ople: The first Woman Labor Leader as Senator

For several years now, we, those involved in the labor movement, have been orphaned by the early loss of our leaders. Ka Popoy Lagman, who symbolized the new face of labor and Ka Crispin Beltran have passed away. Those with lesser popularity but had sacrificed equally for the advancement of the cause of Labor had either been murdered or faded away. Most, if not all, are fighting Grand daddy Time.

With their demise, the Philippine labor movement weakened in its influence. With that, comes fragmentation, the movement splitting into several groups and going to different directions, all advancing the Cause but few making the grade due to a lack of New Leaders who are tough enough and strong enough to face the biggest enemies of the People.

At the Senate right now, no one represents Labor. Former senator Ernesto Herrera is now retired. Senators are either environmentalists, top cop, business tycoons, or plain and simple Constitutionalists and lawyers.

It is time for us to have a representative of Labor at the Senate.

We need someone who knows these labor issues by heart and I mean, someone who is very close to laborers who work here and those abroad. And groups have found that in Susan Ople.

OFW advocate Susan “Toots” Ople must be having sweeter than usual dreams these days. The youngest daughter of former Senator Blas Ople is being drafted by a succession of people’s organizations, labor unions and federations and even reformist groups for the Senate. For someone aspiring for the Senate, this is delicious news indeed.

Susan, or “Toots” to many of her friends in the media and in government, deserves a slot in the Senate, not because she bears an illustrious surname, but because of her distinguished record as a public servant and labor advocate.

When Susan Ople was asked to serve government as labor undersecretary, the former Chief of Staff of Senator Mar Roxas did not even flinch. She knows all about the labor movement. And she is always at the side of her father during those historic times when the former Labor secretary was working hard to craft the Labor Code of the Philippines.

A younger Susan Ople was seen on several occasions, conversing with her father’s friends, mostly labor leaders. At a very young age, she was exposed to the problems of the labor movement. She knows that labor-only contracting is illegal and that many of our People are being victimized due to hopelessness and lack of equal protection under the law. Ople also knew that thousands of our People are suffering due to illegal recruitment. There are laws, and there are laws. But, Ople knows that these laws ought to be strengthened and the people informed.

For many years, Susan Ople worked with OFW groups, leading when asked and serving as their Servant. Toots was there when several truck drivers in Saudi suffered humiliation when their legal recruitment agency fooled them. Toots was the one who did everything just to bring home all of them. When several OFWs got caught for acting as drug mules, Ople was their tireless advocate, giving our consulates information about their cases and serving as their ate, providing them food and giving solace when needed. Filipinas victimized by human smugglers and Malaysian prostitution rings were saved, thanks to the efforts of Susan Ople who heads the Blas F . Ople Labor Policy Center.

Such acts of heroism speaks of Susan “Toots” Ople’s unquenchable and benevolent desire to serve the People, whom, she says, she and her family owes a lot. Ople came from a family of laborers and public servants. Her father, the late Senator, was born to a poor family in Hagonoy Bulacan. Susan recounted the tales of her grandparents, how her late father would go to school at the Hagonoy Elementary school without shoes. Extreme poverty did not deter her father’s ambition to be someone special someday.

Ka Blas worked his way up, studying at the same time working as a kargador at Manila’s piers. While working at the piers, Ka Blas wrote for the Daily Mirror and eventually became a noted columnist at the Manila Times. Former president Ferdinand Marcos took note of him and appointed him in various positions in his government, eventually serving as Labor Minister.

As Labor secretary, Ka Blas drafted the Labor Code which Marcos signed in 1974. Ka Blas continued his labor advocacy unceasingly even when he was elected as a Senator of the Republic. When he died, Ka Blas told his daughter not to give up and pursue the Cause of Labor.

Now, Susan Ople stands on the verge of inheriting her father’s legacy. If she succeeds, Susan Ople will become the no. 1 champion of labor at the Senate.

The “Maka-Manggagawa Movement” is chaired by OFW-turned-businessman Jun Aguilar, one of the founders of the Partido ng Pandaigdigang Pilipino or PPP. Members of MMM include UP Professor and former Dean Rene Ofreneo, Linda Manabat of the Philippine Transport and General Workers Organization, an affiliate of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, Dr. Ernita Santos, chair of the NCR Federation of OFW Family Circles, Boy Desierto of the Alliance of Independent Hotel and Restaurant Workers, Annie Geron as representative of public sector unions under PSLink, among other groups. The movement was formed in support of the labor agenda presented by Ople and to boost the latter’s chances in the 2010 polls.
In solidarity with the different labor groups, former senator and the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Ernesto “Boy” Herrera expressed full support to Ople’s bid. In a message delivered by TUCP Spokesman Alex Aguilar, Herrera said the TUCP welcomes and supports the candidacy of Ople, who is also known by her nickname “Toots”.
“Every OFW owes Ka Blas a debt of gratitude for opening the doors to labor migration long before the word “globalization” became a buzz word of our times,” Herrera said.
“It is but right that his daughter, the one who always accompanied Ka Blas and aided him in his work and continued it even after he had passed away, should now rise to the challenge of national leadership, as a vanguard of labor and OFWs.”

“On her own, Toots Ople has been able to build a name for herself as a writer, public servant, and OFW advocate. She has worked for me and with me in the Senate and as the former executive director of the Citizens’ DrugWatch. Her passion for helping OFWs is something that she undoubtedly inherited from her great father.”
Leaders of the Samahang Magdalo Para sa Pagbabago and Young Officers’ Union endorsed the senatorial bid of OFW advocate Susan Ople during the launch of the “Maka-Manggagawa Movement” at the University of the Philippines last Thursday.

In a message read by his chief of staff, Atty. Reynaldo Robles, detained Senator Antonio Trillanes cited Ople’s genuine concern for overseas Filipino workers and the labor sector.
“Though I am under detention, I have come to know about her quiet and effective work in helping our OFWs including victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment. I call on our countrymen and the members of Samahang Magdalo Para sa Pagbabago to help and support her in her bid for the Senate,” Trillanes said.
Robles who also served as the campaign spokesman of Senator Trillanes in 2007, said that they were impressed by the convergence of labor forces willing to work for Ople’s candidacy.
“This marks the very first time that we saw OFW groups and organized labor talking to each other and agreeing to work on a common goal, that of helping Toots Ople win in 2010,” Robles said.
This makes Ople the first non-military figure being publicly endorsed in next year’s polls by one of Samahang Magdalo’s founders. Trillanes’ call was echoed by the Young Officers’ Union represented in the same launching by its Secretary-General Ricky Rivera. “The YOU supports the senatorial bid of the youngest daughter of Ka Blas,” Rivera said. He cited the commonality of objectives in helping advance the rights of Filipino workers as one of the reasons behind YOU’s endorsement.
“I am humbled by and deeply grateful for all their kind words of encouragement and support. The road ahead will be extremely difficult but I am driven by a cause much bigger than myself, which is to fight for the rights of our OFWs and organized labor,” Ople said.
The Harvard graduate and former labor undersecretary outlined five points in her labor agenda:
1.    Boost local employment by developing a national employment strategic plan for the next six years that is aligned and complemented by reforms in the educational and technical-vocational systems.
2.    Strengthen institutions that overseas workers’ conditions. Overseas Filipino workers should have more representatives in the Governing Board of OWWA rather than the present two seats allotted to them out of 12 trustee positions. A special office on the reintegration of OFWs must also be created to promote technology and knowledge transfers with the help of OFW professionals while providing safety nets to repatriated OFWs.
3.    Labor-only contracting practices must be curbed to uphold the dignity of workers, improve their quality of life as well as to build a stronger middle class. The growing number of contractual workers in both the private and public sectors has become a push factor for migration, thus leading to family separation and other social costs.
4.    The trafficking of women to overseas destinations must be eradicated through tougher sanctions particularly on corrupt officials that provide escort and protection services to trafficking syndicates and illegal recruiters.
5.    The formation of trade unions, workers’ associations and cooperatives and their empowerment through training and tripartite partnerships must be encouraged to ensure workers’ protection and a fair and transparent approach to social protection and improved labor standards.
Ople also stressed the need to optimize modern technology to bring OFWs and their families closer together, vowing to expand the current free computer literacy program for OFWs managed by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center in partnership with OWWA and Microsoft to more countries around the world.