I’d like to welcome and thank all of you for being here tonight to celebrate the lifelong love affair my Dad has had with trees, biodiversity and nature. Even today, I vividly remember how my siblings and I grew up always surrounded by trees, animals and the outdoors. Our house in WackWack always housed my Dad’s latest passion, whether it was Anthuriums, Cattleyas, Vandas, dwarf golden coconut trees, bonsais, papaya trees, etc. He and my Mom were always growing something or another. As his planting material, we perennially had piles of soil in our front driveway, which my brother Cary and I would treat as sandboxes to build castles, caves and battlegrounds for our toy soldiers. I can still remember the distressed look on my Mom’s face as she discovered that her two sons had spent the whole afternoon playing in a huge stockpile of Dad’s chicken manure. However, at that age, while you’re having fun, you couldn’t be bothered by that small detail.
I also remember growing up with more than fourteen dogs at one time with each one free to roam the house at will, indoors and out, just like family members. At one time, they even allowed Cary and I to raise a dozen ducklings in our dressing room with a light bulb suspended over a wooden box.
Weekends were often spent at our family’s 60-‐hectare farm called Paradise Farm in Bulacan. The trip was more than an hour’s drive from WackWack with half the journey over unpaved dirt roads. There we would hike to our heart’s content, climb pink guava trees and eat the fruit straight out from the branches. Our house there didn’t have electricity and I remember nights always lit up by candles and petromax lamps that required pumping every half hour or so. But what I can never forget were the nights filled with thousands of fireflies; so inexhaustible they seemed, we would collect them in large jars that would light up our bedsides.
Of course sometime in the late 60’s, most of the pink guava trees in the country contracted some disease and we did not have the pleasure of climbing and picking from those trees for many decades after that. Similarly, for many of us, fireflies live only in our memories and I doubt if the many children growing up in the world today have ever had the opportunity of feeling their hearts touched and lit up by these creatures.
When Martial Law came in 1972 and our businesses were seized from us by government, part of the reason we still come away from those years with many happy memories is that we sensed our parents never had a preponderant attachment to status and material things—two items in short supply to our family in those days. But we could see how important nature and the outdoors was to my Dad; and so the outdoor sojourns for us never ceased. Although weekends at Paradise Farm continued for a while, they soon became less frequent given the high cost of gas in the 1970’s. But I also remember the hiking, wading in ice cold streams and the overnight camping trips we would take up Mt. Mariveles aided by a former communist rebel caught in 1974 landing arms in Isabela aboard the MV Karagatan.
I also recall Dad buying a small motorized inflatable dinghy that could accommodate all of us to explore coves and go snorkeling with. This boat our Lola Nitang would fondly refer to as “yung Salbabida ni Oskie.”
After EDSA in 1986 at the helm of a First Philippine Holdings he had just resuscitated from near-‐bankruptcy, my Dad had a blank slate upon which to sketch the company’s future strategic direction. Yet of all the choices in the world, his first initiative was a venture to reforest 1,000 hectares of barren land in Bamban, Tarlac. At that time, USAID was offering to compensate any reforestation efforts on a cost-‐plus basis after certification from the DENR that replanting was accomplished successfully. FPH also embarked on a number of agriculture and aquaculture ventures like asparagus, cut flowers, prawns, bangus, as well as the trading of tomatoes, onions, garlic, mangoes, solo papayas, among others. Once, while we were flying on a small plane from Cagayan de Oro to Davao, I even heard him remark that he wished he could drop seeds from the air to reforest the depressingly barren landscape we flew over in Mindanao. Agribusiness was a natural extension of Dad’s passion for nature and the environment. We thought for a while then that this was our emerging core business at FPH.
Of course, we learned many hard lessons from our foray into agribusiness, and meaningful success eluded us and seemed more suited to entrepreneurs than a large Manila-‐based conglomerate like FPH. So of course we learned from it, packed our bags, and without looking back headed towards the world of power and energy.
But a force you can never underestimate is that when a commitment begins in the heart, it triggers the mind to think in creative and innovative ways. And today we find my Dad’s love for nature sprouting up in even more powerful ways through the manner in which we operate our energy businesses. At First Gas we rehabilitated a practically dead ten-‐hectare mangrove that’s now a sanctuary for close to eighty species of resident and migratory birds. We also help some of the more successful volunteer Bantay Dagat teams that protect marine life in the Verde Island Passage by providing fuel for their patrols, educational stipends for their children and other forms of logistical support. At EDC and First Gen Hydro we are securing our fuel sources, specifically the geothermal reservoirs and hydro resources, through protection and reforestation efforts that intend to strengthen the existing watersheds by planting close to 6.4 million trees over a ten-‐year period. At our various power plant sites all over the country we are also working with the UP Institute of Biology, conducting biodiversity surveys to gain a better understanding of the ecosystems surrounding our sites; this way our reforestation efforts are more effective at protecting and giving life to our watersheds in the right way.
Last year, our geothermal company EDC sustained close to Php 300 Million of landslide and flood damage, related to weather events attributable to climate change. It comes as no surprise that the UN’s World Risk Index lists the Philippines as the third most vulnerable country to climate change related disasters. This kind of property damage we suffered is but the tip of the iceberg and a forewarning of things yet to come. Yet property can always be replaced or rebuilt but what is unthinkable will be the immeasurable number of lives that will either be displaced or lost because of climate related disasters. The sad fact is that the most vulnerable of our countrymen are also the least able to afford such tragedies.
Just a little over an hour ago FPH signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle and the University of the Philippines to collaborate on research that aims to find creative and innovative solutions that may prevent and mitigate the effects of disasters and calamities that could befall our country in the years to come. For this, FPH has committed startup funding of Php150 Million to create the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management. Our hope is that the OML Center’s efforts will help in the fight to protect and build up the natural resilience we Filipinos have to such disasters.
Today, we do what we do not because our Chairman Emeritus tells us, but because we share the same DNA and the same commitment for many things close to his heart. Seeds he planted a long time ago that we are in turn sowing throughout our companies in the way we choose to do business.
German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche divides the world into those that see a tree for its fruit and those that see it for its seeds. There, he says, lies the difference in those that merely enjoy and those that seek to create. From my vantage point of watching Dad for more than fifty years, I can honestly say that he is definitively amongst the latter.
Just a few weeks ago, EDC head Ricky Tantoco and First Gen president Giles Puno and I brought our kids camping close to one of our power plant sites. What we thought would be another weekend bonding with them in the outdoors turned into a rather interesting one. As dusk settled into night we found the evening transformed into a familiar one I’d not seen in decades. The night air was once again filled with fireflies to the amazement of our children. But this time, rather than collecting them in jars as we had done as kids, we were extra careful not to accidentally crush any of them. There’s a saying that goes, “Wisdom begins in wonder.” I’m certain that night already sowed a few seeds the fruits of which we will only see in the course of time.
The next morning just before breakfast we noticed our kids climbing a tree, laughing and animatedly reaching for some fruits. I couldn’t hide my surprise later when I learnt that they were the same kind of pink guavas I ate as a boy close to five decades ago. Somehow in this age of video games, iPads, iPhones, Blackberries and HDTV, I have a feeling that this unplugged outdoor weekend with our kids would stand out as one having an immense power to shape their thoughts on life like the same ones I had with my own Dad.
More than thirty-‐five years ago my Dad came home with a small tree sapling he found while walking in Paradise Farm which he casually planted at the very center of his garden in WackWack village. Today that tree towers at 30-‐40 feet high and emblazes our garden with large red flowers that fall and color our lawn year after year. I was talking with my Mom just a few days ago about it and she seemed both proud and worried for such a large tree which she says is called a Bombax tree. She also claims it’s one of the tallest in the neighborhood but she also worries every year as the typhoons come. In fact around ten years ago it had all its branches and leaves sliced off and killed. We had practically given it up for dead, she says. But today, it’s in full bloom again with a canopy that can make any mom proud. I played amateur botanist last night and scouted the net while writing this speech and have some news for my Mom. The tree is called a Bombax Ceiba or Red Silk-‐Cotton tree and really sheds all its leaves and even large branches in a typhoon to safeguard its main trunk from which it will grow again. So Mom, you may not have to worry too much about it in a storm. It has a natural ability to bounce back from adversity. And Dad, even if the story of this tree may sound just as inspiring as the mythical Phoenix, please don’t even think of titling our next family history book “The Bombax.”
In closing I’d like to say that the more than fifty years watching my Dad and his love for nature has been nothing short of infectious. In the same way, like for many of you in this room, it has become our own mission to inspire current and future generations of leaders at our companies and the communities we touch and to feel the same passion he and now we have for nature and the environment. The books we are launching today and the support my Dad has given towards many of these efforts are still just a small contribution to that goal.
If nature teaches you but one thing, it’s to never doubt its capacity to bounce back from adversity when given a chance. It’s our belief in that resilience that inspires hope and keeps us doing the things we do.
Once again, we truly appreciate your being here with us tonight to honor someone who’s been our driving force all these years at our family, FPH and the Lopez Group; and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.