Lopez Holdings


Ladies and Gentlemen:

A very Good Afternoon to all of you. I would like to thank you for the very warm welcome with which you have received me, the members of my family and my associates and friends, into your campus.

I would like to think that, the achievements, the choices, and the difficult decisions which have made me who I am today, and the basis for the Ateneo University giving me its most prestigious academic award, stem from the deeply ingrained values that have been forged from the fires of every crisis that I, my family, and every Lopez Group executive has had to face through our 200 year history. As I humbly receive this award, yet another of our companies, one which I helped establish early in my career, the First Philippine Industrial Corporation, the operator of the oil pipeline from Batangas to Manila, faces another challenge. A challenge, I know we will meet and overcome through compassion, integrity, and the professionalism as you have come to expect from a member of the Lopez Group, that is and will always be in service to the Nation. We take responsibility for our actions and this will not be an exception to that rule.

Being the family historian, I also feel that before you get to know and appreciate who I am and my entire educational background, I would like to take you back to the past. Well, for brevity’s sake, I would like to simply take you back to just one generation before me, to that of my father.

My father was orphaned at the early age of 6 years old because his father, governor Benito Lopez of Iloilo, was assassinated while in office in 1907. My father and his brother Fernando were then brought up by their uncle, Don Vicente Lopez, who sent both to the best schools in Manila. My father was sent to Ateneo to be educated by the Spanish Jesuits under Fr. Villalonga, while my uncle studied in Letran and then UST. My father spent 7 years living as a boarder and subject to the same strict discipline as the Jesuits were in Ateneo from 1912 to 1919, finishing his A.B. degree (cum laude) and then going to the University of the Philippines, where he finished his Law Degree in 1923. After passing the bar exam, he decided to spend one year doing post-graduate work at the Harvard Law school in Cambridge, Mass.. Quite an educational background don’t you think! All throughout his life, my father was always conscious of the importance of education and he always never failed to impart this attitude to his children and even to the society he lived in by setting up the Lopez Memorial Museum which houses his treasure trove of rare Filipiniana books and Manuscripts and famous Filipino paintings and artifacts and opening the Museum to the public and by providing big grants to his alma mater like Ateneo and UP and to the establishment of the Asian Institute of Management.

Let me now tackle my education. You could say that my schooling practically started here in Ateneo, excluding the first 2 grades which were spent in the Iloilo Normal School in Iloilo City, where my father resided and had his businesses. By the time I was ready for the 3rd grade, my father decided to put my brother Geny and I in Ateneo here in Manila. We studied here for 2 years. Why only 2 years in Ateneo? Because I was a very sickly kid. I developed double pneumonia in 1937 and almost died, and my hands and feet were infected with some sort of eczema which necessitated a cooler climate. After I recuperated from double pneumonia, my father decided to take the family on a 6 months tour around the world. When we came back by 1939, my father decided that Geny and I study in Baguio, in a co-educational school, Maryknoll, which was run by American nuns and where most of the students were children of American expats engaged in the mining industries. We were in Baguio from 1939 to 1941.

It was in Baguio that I first met Fr. James Reuter, a scholastic at the time who became the coach of the Maryknoll senior and junior basketball teams. Geny and I learned the rudiments of good basketball from Fr. Reuter. Even today, I still see Fr. Reuter once in a while in Our Lady of the Peace Hospital in Parañaque. His age is past 90 but his mind is as sharp as ever.
Geny and I were also front row witnesses to the start of the war in the Philippines on December 8, 1941 in Baguio. On this day, at around 8:30 a.m. we saw a squadron of Japanese bombers fly over our house near Baguio Country Club to drop its bombs in Camp John Hay. On that same day, my father called from Iloilo to tell us to go down to Manila and wait word from him because he would send his commercial INAEC plane to fetch us in Batangas. After a few days, we proceeded to Batangas where we took the last flight of his Sikorsky amphibian plane to bring us back to Iloilo. A week later, that same plane was bombed and destroyed in Iloilo by Japanese planes.

Our life during the next 4 years of war was spent going from one place to another in the Philippines. When the Japanese landed in Panay, my father decided to go to the mountains of Dingle, where we spent 6 months. But, wherever we went, during the war, my father made sure that our education was not neglected. Even in the mountains of Dingle, he had a teacher couple who gave the Lopez children of my father, my uncle, and several other relations, lessons every day. After 6 months, our group crossed the Guimaras strait to Negros, where we stayed another 6 months in the Lopez sugar central with the teacher couple following us. After Negros, my father finally decided we transfer to Baguio once again, where we spent the rest of the war from 1943 to 1945.

During the years of 1943 and 1944, we studied at the St. Louis high school in Baguio City. But by the early part of 1945, when the Americans started bombing Baguio prior to fighting their way up to the city, all the schools were closed but still my father did not want us to be idle, so he found some La Salle brothers who could teach in the mornings and some St. Scholastica nuns in the afternoon.

This pattern continued until the American bombing got so bad the family had to leave Baguio for the outlying areas and finally to cross several mountain ranges to reach the American lines in Tubao, La Union in early April 1945.

Going back to war ravaged Manila in 1945 was a great shock. Many schools were still not open, except for a few – San Beda was one of them. Geny and I enrolled in that school --- Geny in 4th year high school, I in the 3rd year. The following year, Geny and I went back to Ateneo.

On a hot summer’s day in 1946, amidst the devastation wrought by the second world war upon the city of Manila, I entered the gates of the Ateneo in Padre Faura. It was a very impressionable time for me. The war had dislocated us from the familiar and comfortable environment where I had spent my childhood years in Iloilo and Baguio.

Unfortunately, I did not get to stay too long in Ateneo, less than a year, in fact. Truth be told, fourth-year high school Latin was a bit too much for someone who had never been exposed to Latin before. Hence, I don’t know if I can call myself a full, blue-blooded Atenean, unlike my father who spent the better part of seven years at the Ateneo and my brother, Geny, who stayed on even after I had left. But now perhaps my Ateneo Doctorate Degree can equalize all of us Lopezes in the eyes of Ateneo.

Although my stay at the Ateneo was short, I regard it as a very important period of my life, a time when I was soaking in everything like a sponge. My particular Ateneo hero was Fr. Jaime Bulatao who was my teacher and who greatly impressed me in the way that he conducted himself, teaching us, shaping our character, setting an example for us on how to go about our lives. There is only one word to describe what he came to represent to me, and the word is EXCELLENCE from scholastic work to boxing. It is an ideal that continues to inspire me in the way that I pursue my life’s work. It is an ideal that I continue to demand of myself, and from those who work with me.

There is one other ideal that I embraced from my time with the Jesuits, and it is an ideal that is uniquely associated with the Society of Jesus. The word that describes the ideal is MAGIS, the desire to be more, to seek more, to treasure the quality of what we do, instead of simply the act of doing. Ad majorem dei gloriam, to strive to do things “For the Greater Glory of God”.

These are what I learned from the Ateneo and from the Jesuits, and they are principles that have guided and accompanied me through life, like close friends, or even guardian angels, protecting me from straying down a crooked path. They are principles I had to defend in the very liberal environment that was Harvard, principles by which I raised my children and they are principles that I continue to defend even today, when there are those who think that everything and everyone can be bought, if the price is right.

Fortunately, my exposure to the Jesuits did not end when I left the Ateneo to go to the United States. I earned my high school diploma at the Bellarmine School, a Jesuit prep school in San Jose, California, then I spent another year at the University of San Francisco, also a Jesuit university, before finally ending up in Harvard college in Cambridge, Mass. where I finished my A.B. degree (cum laude) in 1951. More than anyone else, it was my father who wanted both Geny and I to study in Harvard, just as he had done in 1924 . My years in Harvard were interesting and exciting years. Everything was new to me, being the oldest and most renowned university in the U.S. There were 3 of us Filipinos in Harvard in 1948, Armand Fabella, Alejandro Lichauco and myself. I think we were the first Filipinos to enter Harvard College and to graduate with our A.B. degrees in 1951. That first year I spent in Harvard was probably the toughest academic year I experienced in any school. There was so much reading the school expected us to do and you had to get used to a new way of thinking, where you had to question every idea or doctrine to test its validity against a rational criteria. Nothing was sacred or taken for granted. It took me a whole year to learn the Harvard way of doing things. My second year was much better. as I got better grades and by the 3rd and senior year, I was confident enough to go for an honors degree, where you had to write an honors thesis. My subject was a short history of the Communist Movement in the Philippines. There was so much untapped source material available in Harvard’s main library, Widener Library, that my thesis sounded like an authoritative history of the movement. My thesis went over big with the graders and I eventually graduated with a cum laude on my degree. Needless to say, my father was very proud of my achievement, and he had my name and picture plastered in all the newspapers in Manila at the time. Armand Fabella, who also graduated cum laude, complained to me that he did not get the same publicity as I did. I said it’s probably because his father was not a newspaper publisher as mine was.

The next few years, I spent enlarging my cultural and journalistic horizon by spending almost a year in Spain to absorb Hispanic culture, language and travelling all over Spain and about 6 months cub-reporting for the Manila Chronicle in Manila. In 1953, I decided to go back to Harvard, this time I enrolled in the Littauer School of Public Administration where I went for a Masters in Public Administration at the same time that I finished all the course requirements for a PhD degree. This coincided with my brother Geny going to the Harvard Business School to do his M.B.A. degree. Two years later, in 1955, we both got our diplomas and went home. The following year, I decided to get married to Connie Rufino and brought her back to Cambridge, to be away from the influence of our parents. I also hoped to finish my PhD because all that was lacking was my PhD thesis. In the more than 2 years we spent in Cambridge, our first 2 children were born. At that point, I decided it was time to go home and start working without finishing my thesis.

Now, I am greatly honored to have three PhD degrees, honoris causa of course --- one from the Philippine Women’s University given in April of 2009, one from De La Salle University in October this year and now from Ateneo de Manila University --- what more can one want out of life! But in my semi-retirement years, I still have the ambition of finishing my thesis probably written as a book on my original theme, the development of constitutional democracy in the Philippines.
Now, you know what I plan to do in the next few years. There are however 2 smaller objectives I intend to pursue in the next few years ---- one is to climb the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, which is Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo, 14,500 ft. or 4,500 meters; the other is to do a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain. I may do this next year with Fr. Nebres who also wants to do this pilgrimage after he retires from Ateneo. Is it a date Father? I don’t know how many days Fr. Nebres wants to walk. But, in my case, I don’t want to walk more than 10 days, this means the coastal route from the Basque region, and not from the Pyrenees mountain range which could take a whole month to do.

This afternoon, I have come back to the Ateneo to accept the honor that you confer upon me. I do so with great pride, a tremendous sense of honor, but, at the same time, with an equally tremendous sense of humility and gratitude. I may not have earned my diploma at the Ateneo as a student, but your gesture allows me to feel that I have earned that diploma by what I have tried to achieve in my life, by living the life in accordance with the principles that I learned at the Ateneo. It is a degree that I will value till the day I die.

I also consider your gesture an acknowledgement of the close association that the Lopez Family and the Ateneo have enjoyed through many, many years. Apart from my father and my brother Geny, quite a number of Lopezes have spent their formative years here, including my late brother Robby and my nephew Gabby. My father provided a substantial grant that helped establish the Rizal Library and an educational television studio in Ateneo, the Asian Institute of Management, a school that was established partly by Harvard Business School professors in conjunction with Ateneo and La Salle. More recently, we were godfathers to the creation of the Ateneo Professional Schools at Rockwell and to the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health at the Meralco compound. Speaking as patriarch of the Lopez Family, I consider this a most valuable association and one that I am sure will continue over future generations.

Today, at the young old age of 80, I have ceded the day-to-day running of the Lopez businesses to my brother, Manolo, and to the next generation of Lopezes. I stay on as Chairman Emeritus of our major companies, and in that capacity, I serve principally as custodian of the Lopez values, values that we largely inherited from my father, values by which we demand that our businesses be managed and conducted. We, the Lopez Family, dedicate our businesses to the service of the Filipino people. We do so, with seven core Lopez values in mind:

A pioneering entrepreneurial spirit
Business excellence
Social justice
Concern for employee welfare and wellness.

Excellence is already explicitly stated as one of our core values. Under my watch, you can rest assured that we will endeavor to live up to these values within the context of the ideal of magis, the desire to do more, to do good, for the greater glory of God. It is my fervent hope that the Lopez group of companies can outlast all of us here, hopefully for a few centuries as Ateneo has achieved in doing.

Once again, I thank Ateneo for the honor you have conferred upon me. I will continue to strive to live up to the ideals that it represents. Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat.

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Lopez Holdings Corporation 
16/F North Tower, Rockwell Business Center Sheridan, Sheridan St. corner United St., 1550 Bgy. Highway Hills, Mandaluyong City, Philippines

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You are here: Home About the Company Speeches 2010 November 19, 2010 Oscar M. Lopez response on the occasion of the Conferment of Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa by the Ateneo de Manila University
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