Panelist Presentation by Oscar M. Lopez, Chairman Emeritus, Lopez Group of Companies on the occasion of LCF CSR EXPO 2015: Collaborate, Sustain, Revolutionize held at the SMX Convention Center on July 1, 2015
A very good afternoon to all of you. I have been asked to share with you my own CSR story, journey and challenges. How my CSR attitudes and philosophy shaped and guided our corporate CSR programs. And so I shall.
I suspect that, often, an individual’s attitudes toward corporate social responsibility develop from something that he or she is passionate about to begin with, a hobby or interest that then becomes an advocacy. So it was with me, but much of my thinking and awareness was also influenced by what my father did, and by what earlier generations of Lopezes have done in the way of public service.
I have long had a love and fascination for trees, and in particular, hardwoods indigenous to the Philippines, many of which are now considered vanishing species. We had family farms in Paradise Farms in San Jose del Monte and in Guimaras Island, and I found an outlet for my love affair with trees by initiating and overseeing the planting of orchards or stands of one tree species or other.
In 1987, however, barely a year after I had assumed the headship of First Philippine Holdings Corporation following the EDSA Revolution, an opportunity arose to carry out a 1,000-hectare reforestation project in Sacobia, Tarlac under the auspices of the DENR and the US AID. It was to be a two year contract funded by the US AID and the parameters encouraged the planting of hardwoods, in addition to fast-growing species. We jumped at this opportunity, and it turned out to be very successful, and profitable as well. After the contract period, we turned the area over to the DENR. Not too long thereafter, Mt. Pinatubo erupted. In the aftermath of the eruption, I visited the reforestation site, fearing the worst. To my surprise, the trees that we had planted were growing most vigorously, perhaps even aided by the fact that, due to the eruption, the young trees benefited by the volcanic ashfall. After 5 more years, I went back to the area and was disappointed to see many of the trees cut down for firewood and housing material by the Negritos. This is one problem in reforestation, you have to have people to take care of our trees.
During the 1990’s, we tried to find ways to pursue a sustained reforestation program. Without funding subsidy from an entity like the US AID, however, it was difficult to identify a project that would financially be self-supporting and viable under normal corporate risk-return measures.
Fortunately, much later, we won the privatization bid for the Energy Development Corporation, or “EDC”. For geothermal power to be sustainable and successful, it is absolutely essential to protect and enhance the watersheds that feed a geothermal heat resource and the water that it converts into exploitable steam. For many, many years, EDC had already been conducting systematic reforestation and forest conservation within its geothermal concession areas. But in September 2008, we decided to expand EDC’s reforestation and forest management program in the Philippines. We launched “BINHI” as EDC’s greening legacy. The program calls for reforesting 1,000 hectares every year for ten years from 2009. It has four components, namely “tree for the future”; “tree for life”; “tree for food” and “tree for leisure”. It will entail paying out in excess of P22.2 Million annually to forest communities.
By 2013, EDC had already reforested 12,050 hectares in its own sites, and maintains 89,700 hectares of protected and forested, or reforested, area. Partly because I requested it, EDC today devotes a significant part of its annual tree planting to vanishing and rare Philippine hardwoods. “Tree for the future” specifically aims to rescue and secure prime endangered Philippine species. So in the end, quite by accident or quirk of fate, my fondest dream has been realized.
But to return to the 1990’s. Although we could not get back into corporate reforestation, I was given the opportunity to serve as a member of the Board of Conservation International, an international environmental organization with a presence in more than 30 countries, whose mission is “to protect the most fundamental things that nature provides to all of us: our food, our fresh water, our livelihoods and a stable climate.” I chaired First Philippine Conservation, Inc. which was formed to lend support to Conservation International in the Philippines.
Serving with Conservation International, I began to learn about biodiversity and I came to realize how much of a blessing and a curse it is for the Philippines. A blessing, because in spite of how we have exploited and abused our environment, the Philippines remains one of the most diverse countries in both its flora and its fauna. A curse, because we are also one of the principal biodiversity hot spots in the world, with a high incidence of threatened species. Conservation International operated a test plot in Palanan, Isabela, to study, in order to protect, what little remaining old-growth rain forests we have in the Sierra Madre mountains. There I slept under the trees for the next few nights and I had the pleasure of getting to know the late Leonard Co.
I was impressed and fascinated by Leonard’s mastery of the taxonomy of virtually everything growing in the forest. As I came to discover, the forest was Leonard’s classroom, first as a student, and subsequently as professor. I, in turn, became his student. Each hike we took in the forest became, for me, a lesson in botany and biodiversity.
I have never seen anyone so comfortable in the rainforest as Leonard was. We, my colleagues and I, would be kitted out in the best hiking shoes, outfits and jackets we could find, with backpacks, canteens, insect repellents and all. Leonard … well, Leonard went around in tsinelas, in his camisa tsina, and always with his umbrella! For him, a place to sleep was a hammock slung between two trees. He regaled us with stories, but most of all, he regaled us with his knowledge of the forest and all the plants and creatures that he shared his beloved forest with.
My stint with Conservation International and my forays to Isabela also had one great dividend – my son Piki was introduced to biodiversity, its blessings and its threats. In his own style and manner, he has become a protector of our environment. For many years now, he has championed the conservation of the Verde Island Passage as one of the richest sources of marine biodiversity in the country and in the world.
Now, it is one thing to be an advocate of environmental responsibility. But often, what your company does is not necessarily tied into what your advocacies are, and at worst, may be at cross purposes to what you advocate. As most of you are aware, the principal core business of First Philippine Holdings is power generation. Our largest power plants are gas-fired, from Shell’s Malampaya gas fields and therefore rely on the cleanest available fossil-based fuel and technology. With EDC, we are the second largest geothermal power producer in the world. Our other power plants rely on hydro, wind and most recently, solar energy sources. Thankfully, between my advocacies and those of Piki, we have managed to avoid going into coal-based power generation, which would add to the fast accumulation of carbon in the world’s atmosphere.
The other major challenge of any CSR program is that of leveraging upon itself, so that other corporations and institutions, and hopefully society at large, assume co-ownership of it. In this way, there is a multiplier effect to both the program and to those who benefit from the program. To help address our vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, this is what we are now trying to accomplish in setting up the OML Center, short for “The OML Center For Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Foundation, Inc.” It was established in my honor, and so the OML stands for Oscar M. Lopez, me.
It was launched in August 2012, initially as a partnership between the First Holdings Group of Companies that also provided its initial seed fund of P150 Million, and the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.
The OML Center seeks to generate science-based solutions in the area of climate change adaptation and disaster risk management. It is prepared to promote and fund research activities that generate such solutions. It seeks to establish more effective information dissemination and hazard warning systems so that our people can take themselves out of harm’s way.
And what of the future? I think that the continuity of the Lopez legacy of social responsibility is assured for at least another generation. Even as I speak before you, the next generation of Lopezes, the sixth, is already hard at work carrying on the family legacy. For example, the ABS-CBN Foundation, led by my niece Gina, my brother Geny’s eldest daughter, has several major programs, the most well-known being Bantay Bata which translates to “child watch”, and Bantay Kalikasan which translates to “nature watch”.
Since its establishment in 1997, Bantay Bata has aided, counseled, or rescued more than 207,000 children from all over the country from physical and psychological abuse. Bantay Kalikasan adopted as its main initiative the protection and preservation of La Mesa Dam, Metro Manila’s principal watershed and reservoir serving more than 12 million people. It has so far re-forested 1,200 hectares by planting nearly 120,000 trees, mostly endemic species.
More recently, Gina has spearheaded the clean-up and rehabilitation of the Pasig River, and the ecological preservation of a number of very sensitive areas in Palawan.
Standing quietly behind Gina, but in full support of her programs, is ABS-CBN headed and chaired by her older brother, Gabby, the fourth Eugenio Lopez. ABS-CBN is, today, through Sagip Kapamilya , the most trusted conduit for local and international aid and assistance mobilized in times of natural disasters.
Education is the single most important enabler to help families overcome poverty. Believing that millions of Filipino school children in remote towns and villages will greatly improve their learning if they had access to satellite or cable-based educational television, the Knowledge Channel Foundation, founded and led my daughter Rina, has given access to education television to 2.7 million students in more than 1,600 public schools nationwide.
First Philippine Conservation, Inc., led by my son Federico or “Piki” , in partnership with Conservation International and other donors, has implemented long-gestation biodiversity conservation projects. These include Philippine eagle program in Baggao, Cagayan, and other urgent initiatives in the Isla Verde channel between Mindoro and Batangas, one of the richest centers of marine biodiversity in the world; and in the Sierra Madre range and other biodiversity hot spots where hundreds of species, most of them endemic are threatened or endangered.
It is also actually Piki who is the moving force behind the OML Center. His advocacies and mine have combined and guided us as we have built a core business of power generating platforms based on clean and renewable fuels – natural gas, geothermal, hydro, wind and solar.
In preparing my remarks, I have tried to identify and describe the elements common to the social responsibility orientation that has stretched across six generations of the Lopez family. It is, quite simply, because we love our country and because we are prepared to take action to make it better.
Thank you and good afternoon to all of you.