By Ernesto Herrera
23 February 2010
After seeing their priorities not given full attention in the legislature in recent years, the labor movement and its supporters are hoping their fortunes will change in 2010, with the election of a genuine labor representative in the Senate in the person of Susan “Toots” Ople.
Toots Ople is of course the youngest daughter of my best friend, the late Senator and Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople. She’s also a former undersecretary in the Labor department, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University.
I am happy that Toots, who always accompanied Ka Blas, helped him in his work and continued his advocacies after he died, is now prepared to rise to the challenge of national leadership, as a vanguard of labor and OFWs. Her passion for helping OFWs is something that she undoubtedly inherited from her father, who authored the Labor Code and is the recognized father of OFWs.
Overseas Filipino workers and organized labor who have found a common ally in Toots Ople have recently mobilized their ranks to promote her senatorial bid. They started the Maka-Manggagawa Movement, or MMM, which 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, chairman of the NCR Federation of OFW Family Circles, Boy Desierto of the Alliance of Independent Hotel and Restaurant Workers, and Annie Geron as representative of public sector unions under PSLink.
During the launch of MMM, held at the UP SOLAIR Building in Diliman, Quezon City, among Toots Ople’s well-wishers were OFWs, like the bus drivers from Dubai whom she helped bring home after they were duped by their licensed agencies. She led the way in filing charges against the 12 licensed recruitment agencies that victimized the 137 bus drivers, and they came in full force to show their appreciation and support for Toots Ople.
Toots has helped a lot of OFWs through her NGO, the Ople Center. For instance, in 2006, she was able to secure the freedom of 17 trafficked victims in Damascus, Syria. Her lobbying also led to the establishment of an embassy in Syria, giving 17,000 Filipinos easy access to government help and protection.
The Ople Center also provides free computer literacy programs for OFWs and their dependents nationwide. The oldest graduate of the program is an 80-year-old grandmother who now maintains her own Facebook account to communicate with her loved ones abroad.
It’s about time we elect another senator who can genuinely represent workers and their families. I am confident that if elected Toots Ople can round up the votes needed in the Senate to pass worker-friendly labor initiatives.
Toots Ople vows to work for tougher laws against illegal recruitment and human trafficking as well as reforms in OWWA and other institutions that help OFWs. She also expressed concern over the growing trend towards agency-hires or labor-only contracting practices that include even jobs deemed essential to a company’s core operations and services.
For OWWA reform, she will work to make sure that six of the 12 members of OWWA’s Board of Directors are bona fide OFWs, because they are the ones who can genuinely represent the needs of their sector.
To stop the abuse of contractual workers, she will work for measures that would make it more difficult for companies to fire employees indiscriminately at the end of their six-month contract.
To beef up local employment, she said the government needs to study trends in employment and come up with a six to 10 year national employment strategic plan. This employment plan should not have a bias for what jobs will be in demand overseas; rather, it should also give equal attention to local industries that when developed would employ a lot of people.
For the youth she will reintroduce and strengthen the Study Now, Pay Later program, where students can borrow money from the government for their studies, and pay it back once they already start working.
She would also work for the inclusion of financial literacy in high school and college curriculums. She said high school and college students, no matter what course, should be taught the basics of saving and investing. They should know how to open a bank account, what a time deposit is, how to buy shares from public companies, and the like. This is practical education that will serve them well once they start earning their own money.
In these economic times, you want to reward hard work in this country. You want to put as many Filipinos back to work as possible, and you want them to be able to have a decent living, with good wages and good benefits. I know Toots Ople if elected in the Senate will work for these things. That’s why she has my vote.