Pinalangga ko nga kapwa Ilonggo, ang amon mga ka-partners sa Iloilo Economic Development Foundation, friends, guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Ma ayong gab-i sa inyo nga tanan.
I am happy for all your presence here tonight. This is one of those rare special occasions we Ilonggos gather together. Tonight, we are gathered here to launch a coffee table book entitled "Iloilo: A Rich and Noble Land", which represents the joint effort of the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation Inc. and the Lopez Group Foundation, Inc which I chair.
I think we have a good book that should make us Ilonggos proud because it represents a distillation of all that is best in Iloilo. I am convinced this book should be part of your library to be read by your children, relatives, and friends and all interested in Iloilo.
When Narz Lim and Rex Drilon approached me last year with the idea for this book, I quickly agreed because I felt that it was something the Lopez Group Foundation should support. It dealt with the very roots of the Lopez family.
This book, consisting of 278 pages takes you on a tour through Iloilo's history, economics, culture, food, language, architecture, literature, cosmology and much more. Our topnotch editor, Anita Feleo, has assembled a stellar cast of writers: Henry Funtecha, Leoncio Deriada, Demy Sonza, Raul Rodrigo, Go Bon Juan, Alicia Magos, Art Cariaga, Augusto VillalÃ³n, Winston Conrad Padojinog, Hazel Villa, Diosa Labiste, Colin Hubo, Michaela Fenix and Mike Besa. Many of them are Ilonggos or have good ties with Iloilo. But this work is also a magnificent picture book. More than half of the book is devoted to color pictures, where the photographer Sonny Yabao captured through his lenses the beautiful landscapes and seascapes of Iloilo, the old churches and the elegant family mansions, the colorful festivals and the day to day life of the Ilonggos. It frankly brought back memories. When I was born in 1930, Iloilo was the undisputed Queen City of the South. My siblings Geny, Presy and I were raised in a city then at the peak of its grandeur. It was a genteel, gracious city of elegant mansions, and fabulously wealthy sugar barons. There was an atmosphere of great entrepreneurial energy --“ for instance, INAEC, the very first Asian airline, predating PAL, JAL and Singapore Airlines, would be launched in our city in 1933 by my father Eugenio Lopez. But also we could feel a lot of culture. Ilonggos prized classical music: a grand-uncle and grand-aunt of ours, Lolo Gil Lopez and Lola Chayong Lopez, even had their own orchestras. Not surprisingly, many of the top Filipino classical musicians are of Illonggo descent, such as Gilipez and Merceditas Kabayao Mortensen, and Ma. Luis Lopez Vito Koch, all Lopezes by the way.
As children, we could sense that much history had taken place in the same streets we played in or walked to attend Mass at the Jaro Cathedral. From our elders, I would hear stories about how my grandfather and his siblings had fought the Americans I 1899. My grand-uncles, Vicente and Ramon, had fought among the infantry, my grandfather, Benito, was a key figure in the revolutionary government, and my great-aunts, Maria and Rosario Lopez, had smuggled guns across enemy lines. We grew up feeling that we were a part of a rich and noble heritage. We grew up very proud to be Ilonggos --“ a sentiment we share with all our provincemates.
As this book's editorial board met again and again to discuss how it was taking shape, we all voiced the concern that it had to be more than just about Iloilo's past. The book had to be more than just an exercise in nostalgia. It must come to grips with the brutal fact that Iloilo had lost its preeminence as Queen City of the South and that Ilonggos must work hard to bring back that status to Iloilo again. The articles of Rex Drilon and Conrad Padojinog touch on this ticklish issue.
As I was reviewing the book I reminded my co-editors there should be a discussion of the entrepreneurs of Iloilo and their contributions to the local economy. But Rex told me the harsh truth: there are not many of those at present, and the ones we knew in the past--“ the dela Ramas, etc. we no longer hear much about. Like Rex, the rest of us who put together this book, have this ardent hope that our book will awaken the entrepreneurial zeal of the Ilongos, as its pages make that appeal to share and be involved for the good of our beloved Iloilo.
It saddens me that Iloilo is not too prominent in the national consciousness these days. As Iloilo lost its significance as a transshipment port for sugar and as the nation's sugar industry declined greatly, so much of Iloilo's economic power also declined. The title of "Queen City of the South" was claimed by another. After World War II many Ilonggo tycoons moved their flags to the national capital and built newer and larger business empires there. One of those men was my father. All the land assets of the Lopez businesses, such as airplanes and busses and taxis were destroyed during the war. Some of the business interests he had in Iloilo before the war he now pursued in Manila, but now on a national scale. Just as he was first to start the airline business in Iloilo in 1933, he took advantage of the disruption to the transport business by the war and decided to set up a new airline in November 1945 called Far Eastern Air Transport, Inc. or FEATI, using surplus U.S. Army transport planes. But when Pal started its operation a few months later, the competition became cutthroat and my father decided to sell out to PAL and went into another business he knew and loved in Iloilo, the newspaper business. He acquired the Manila Chronicle and then went into Mass Media with radio and television network ABS-CBN. The rest you know.
Though the Lopezes are now based in Metro Manila, we have never lost our affection for the city of our childhood. So we take every opportunity to participate in the development of the province. In the late 1990s, we built the 75 MW power plant that supplies power to Panay Power in Iloilo City. The Lopez Group has many CSR projects in Iloilo. Last July we launched several social development projects in Iloilo as part of the commemoration of my father's 105th birth anniversary. We wanted to give back something of ourselves and our companies to our native province, where my father started his business career and where we, his children, spent our happy childhood years.
In another week I will be speaking before the Iloilo Investment Forum that the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation Inc. led by Rex Drilon is organizing. At that forum, what I would like to hear from the drivers of the Iloilo economy present in that forum is how they intent to move to restore the economy primacy of Iloilo again.
I, for one, am an optimist and I believe Iloilo still has a great future ahead of it. It has ample human capital and natural resources; it is still, after all the education capital of the Visayas with its 30 public and private tertiary schools. In other words, it has the educational foundation for rapid growth. It has a dynamic mayor in Jerry Treñas and a good governor in Niel Tupas. Gradually, the city and the province of Iloilo will be transformed into a new kind of economic powerhouse.
As our book takes a good look not just backward, to the past, but forward, to the future, our vision is that Iloilo City is once again the Queen City of the South. With your and my, and all the stakeholders of Iloilo support, we will dare to embrace the challenges however, and whatever these will be. As an Ilonggo, let us resolve to realize our dream that for the city and the province of Iloilo, the best is yet to be.
Madamo gid nga salamat sa inyo nga tanan!