Lopez Holdings

 

First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the German government represented here today by its ambassador, His Excellency Ambassador Axel Weishaupt, for the honor bestowed upon me by this award, the Officer's Cross of the order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. I accept this award with all humility, knowing that it is the very first time a Filipino businessman will receive this highest award that Germany confers. I also know that by giving me this award, the German government is also recognizing the role played by my late father, Don Eugenio Lopez Sr. in initiating, developing and nurturing Philippine-German business relations in the early years.

Those of the younger generation may not be aware that the first major contract between a Filipino and a German company happened in the late 1960s between Manila Electric Company or Meralco and Siemens. My father contracted for four power plants built around Siemens turbine generators. In March 1969, Peter von Siemens and his wife Bettina, visited the Philippines to attend the inauguration of the Lopez Building and Theater, the new corporate headquarters of Meralco. Later that year, Peter's parents, Dr. Peter von Siemens (Senior) who was chairman of the Siemens Supervisory Board and his wife Julia, also came to Manila as guests of my father, for the inauguration of the first of those power plants, the Gardner 2 station. Between 1969 and 1973, all four stations were completed with a total capacity of 1,100 megawatts. They were quite possibly, the largest business transactions concluded in the Philippines at the time.

My awarding this evening comes at a very special time. We are celebrating this year, the 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of Philippine German diplomatic relations. Of course the relationship between our countries dates back to the 1846 when the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg established a consulate in Manila, followed in 1849 by the Free and Hanseatic City of Bremen. But it was on the 25th day of April 1955 when we signed a Protocol of Trade with Germany. As is plain to see, business and trade relations laid the groundwork for political relations between our nations. Our role in the business community, is indeed important, and will continue to be so in years to come.

Fifty years, my friends, is a long time in any relationship. A lot of things have happened in both our countries during that period. We got ourselves a local tyrant ruling over us for twenty of those fifty years and we also got ourselves rid of him in a glorious People Power revolution that set a trend for freedom rolling for many countries in the world, including Germany. For it was also during this time, shortly after our EDSA revolution that the Berlin wall fell, and with it, a new era in world politics and economics opened.

We in the Lopez Group, greeted this new era by renewing our business ties with our German friends. In October 1997, we broke ground for the Sta. Rita gas turbine power plant, again with Siemens but this time with First Gas Power Corporation, a subsidiary of First Philippine Holdings Corporation, but still with Meralco as end consumer. Sta. Rita and subsequently, San Lorenzo combined with a capacity of 1,500 megawatts using natural gas being produced for the first time from a Philippine field, the Malampaya natural gas fields off Palawan..

On the broadcast media side of the Lopez Group, the IT sector of ABS-CBN utilizes the German software system from S A P, a German information technology company, to manage their finance and logistics. And speaking of S A P , we also chose this German software company to provide the system being used in managing the complex operations of Maynilad Water, including the billing of some 600,000 customers. ABS-CBN technical personnel are also recipients of several scholarship grants from the German government for training at the Deutsche Welle Television Training Center in Berlin.

Our worldwide satellite TV network called TFCD or the Filipino Channel Direct has already penetrated the German market with a 250 household subscriber base but this number will surely increase in time as the system becomes better known to Filipinos living in Germany. In North America today, there are more than 200,000 household subscribers to TFC.

During my father's time as it is today, there is one other important German institution that made the large projects possible --- Kreditanstalt Fuer Wiederaufbau or KFW for short ---which provided long term financing for all these power plants. I have no doubt that KFW will continue to play a big role in the further development of Philippine-German business relations in other areas of trade and industry.

If we are to take our experience in the Lopez Group with the German company Siemens, it is clear that both sides took extraordinary efforts to nurture the relationship beyond the business side of it. Not very many people know that Dr. Peter von Siemens (Senior) took the effort of writing a letter to then President and dictator Marcos to intercede for my late brother Geny who was being unjustly held in a military prison for purely political reasons. Although the effort was fruitless, it was nevertheless a very noble gesture on the part of the von Siemens family and one that will always be remembered and appreciated by the Lopez family.

Over the years, my wife and I have attended numerous concerts and operas in Berlin, Beyrouth and Salzburg as well as the famous passion play performed only once every 10 years in Obermmergau, Bavaria, all upon invitation and compliments of the von Siemens family. But like all relationships, we have had our ups and downs. Issues occasionally arise, such as the delays in the start-up of the power plants and claims on what the plans can and cannot do. But we have always followed established processes to resolve misunderstandings and disputes with little or no harm to the long term relationship.

This is why I view with regret the current acrimonious dispute regarding the NAIA 3 project. I do not know enough about the dispute to understand why the normal conflict resolution processes so utterly failed to provide a break through the impasse. But it is my hope that reason will eventually prevail and an acceptable solution will be found to allow the airport to finally operate and this long standing thorn on Philippine German relations removed once and for all. Perhaps, future projects of this nature between our country and German entities could follow the model we have set between us in the Lopez Group and Siemens. Hopefully, commercial relationships between Germans and Filipinos will all be built on the solid foundations of equity, respect and mutual interest.

Speaking of the future of Philippine German business relations, I, as chairman of the Philippine German Business Council, remain hopeful of better things ahead. Despite the language problem and our economy's orientation towards the United States, German business and industry have been making significant inroads in the Philippines. Just go out and look at the streets of Metro Manila and the strong presence of the German automotive industry is immediately felt. German pharmaceutical companies are among the largest in the country. In general, Filipinos associate German brands with high quality and service that is the very best. We are also very appreciative of German investments here that brought not just capital but technology as well. Lufthansa Teknik's aircraft maintenance services operations here have given our technicians the skills and the exposure to an industry that is high in the value chain.

In terms of two way trade, we are also assured of continued access to the expanded European market through the tireless efforts of such long time German resident entrepreneurs here as Claus Sudhoff. We have recently learned that our dying abaca industry was given an encouraging lift from the luxury car manufacturer, Mercedes Benz. The leading German car company will use our abaca fibers as one of the raw materials used in the manufacture of their luxury vehicles. We hope other German car manufacturers would follow the Mercedez Benz initiative, as part of their effort to increase their level of biodegradable components of their car models.


Though our cultures may seem worlds apart, I suspect a strong spiritual bond ties our people together that will sustain our relationship through the years. I find it significant that our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal found refuge and inspiration in Germany that enabled him to articulate our people's budding thoughts of freedom. Let me just make a few comments on our national hero's stay in Germany. Dr. Rizal spent a total of 15 months studying and traveling throughout Germany from February 1886 to May 1887. He took advanced ophthalmology courses in the University of Heidelberg for 6 months, he lived in Leipzig for 3 months, and lived another 6 months in Berlin, where he finally finished the manuscript of his famous novel, Noli Me Tangere', and had 2,000 copies printed in Berlin in March 1887.

In that period of time, he also got to know many Germany scholars who had visited and written articles and books about the Philippines. Among these were Prof. Ferdinand Blumentritt, Prof. Feodor Jagor and Prof. Rudolf Virchow. He was sponsored by the latter scholars to become a member of the Berlin Anthropological Society , where he delivered in German a scientific analysis of the metres used in Tagalog verses.

In assessing the impact of his stay in Germany, one of his biographers, Austin Coates, had this to say:

These events in Berlin may be said to mark a pinnacle in his life, being the completing point in the formation of his personality, the expression of his ideas, and the rounding of experience which he knew to be essential before engaging in his task for the Philippine nation. He was now ready.

Ten years later, after Rizal died a martyr's death in Manila on December 30, 1896, the Berlin Anthropological Society met to honor him in death, a meeting in which his famous farewell address, El Ultimo Adios', was read in its German translation.

In effect Rizal's stay in Germany represents a high point in the people-to-people relationship between Germany and the Philippines in the past century, which may have overshadowed the fairly recent formal relationship which is nevertheless all of 50 years now. However, I want to express my optimism about the future of Philippine-German relations, particularly in business.

This October, the Lopez Group will join the German embassy and the local German community again in celebrating German month. We hope to focus on the aspects of our relationship that today constitute the solid foundation of our enduring ties.

In closing, allow me to offer a toast to the golden years of Philippine German relations, in the hope that the best years are yet to come.

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Lopez Holdings Corporation (formerly Benpres Holdings Corporation)
4/F Benpres Building, Exchange Road, 1605 Pasig City, Philippines

  • Trunkline: (632) 449-2345
  • Fax: (632) 634-3009