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Ambassador Manolo Lopez taught his children integrity, humility and compassion

One of the great challenges for most leaders is how to balance hectic, multifaceted careers with a good family life. Despite his busy schedule as diplomat, Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manuel “Manolo” M. Lopez has also been the successful chairman and chief executive officer of the publicly listed Lopez Holdings Corporation, one of the Philippines’ top diversified business conglomerates.

His second elder brother Oscar “Oskie” M. Lopez, the historian, book lover and health buff, is now the 86-year-old chairman emeritus of the Lopez conglomerate, after turning over leadership of the Lopez Group to Manolo in 2010.

The Lopez Group was first established as Benpres Holding Corp. by their late legendary empire-builder father Eugenio “Don Eñing” Lopez, Sr., of Iloilo and later run by their late eldest brother, Eugenio “Geny” Lopez, Jr. The Lopez Group has overcome the country’s political vicissitudes and socioeconomic tumult for decades.

Lopez Holdings is a major business group in the public utilities sector and serves as the Lopez clan’s holding firm for investments in broadcasting and cable such as ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. headed by Manolo’s nephew Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III; telecommunications; power generation and distribution; manufacturing; and property development through Rockwell Land Corp. which is led by Ambassador Maolo Lopez as chairman and Nestor “Tong” J. Padilla as president. The Lopez clan has sold their interests in banking, Meralco, toll roads, information technology, and health care delivery.

Ambassador Lopez earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of the East and advanced studies in Financial and Management Development Program from Harvard. On past social occasions I have met him and his elder brother Oscar, both of whom come across as humble, good-humored, frank and urbane.

How is Ambassador Manolo Lopez as a father? His four children — Maita Lopez Lichauco (president of Benpres Insurance Agency Inc.), Beaver (CEO of Global Integrated Contact Facilities Inc.), Mike (general manager of Rockwell Integrated Property Services Inc.) and Mark (CIO of ABS-CBN Corporation) — gave The Philippine STAR this exclusive interview. Here are excerpts.

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PHILIPPINE STAR: What lessons did your dad teach you by word or by example?

MAITA LOPEZ LICHAUCO: Always be grateful for what you have.

BEAVER LOPEZ: That the best way to lead and to inspire is (management) by example and the value of malasakit (concern or empathy for others).

MIKE LOPEZ: To always be respectful to older people, to be humble and to be thoughtful — and he is a true living example of these traits.

MARK LOPEZ: He always talked about humility, reminded us to always be humble. Always be respectful and caring to people regardless if they are very important or down to the simplest ones. I’ve had the chance to see him lead by example and adhere to the values of malasakit and integrity.

As our country’s envoy to Japan, which achievement of his are you proudest of?

BEAVER: His being a dedicated servant leader. For instance, in the way he responded to the Filipino community during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, when he went to Fukushima. Also, in how effective he is in building and managing business and diplomatic affairs between Japan and the Philippines and paving the way for the Japan Emperor’s visit to our country.

MAITA: He had just assumed his post in January 2011 when the Great East Japan earthquake happened two months later. He worked tirelessly in addressing the needs of the Filipinos who lived around the earthquake area.

MIKE: There are quite a few but what stands out to me is how he handled the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011. I went to Tokyo to be with him a week after the devastation and personally witnessed his genuine concern for the welfare of our kababayans. Despite the risks involved, we motored to Sendai with members of the Embassy to bring relief goods and to speak to the Filipinos there who were affected.  

MARK: The three achievements that stand out for me are: 1) The tsunami event in 2011; he demonstrated his role as a leader and how he cared for the Filipino people; he visited Filipinos all over to check how they were, despite all the risks involved; 2) He was able to strengthen the relationship between Japan and the Philippines; he has attracted both foreign investments and at the same time attracted Filipinos to visit Japan as a primary tourist destination; and 3) Receiving the Order of Sikatuna award. This recognizes his efforts as the Ambassador to Japan and his contribution to the Philippines and to all the Filipinos living in Japan.

Any touching event you attended or witnessed during his term as envoy?

MARK: I had a chance to visit during my dad’s birthdays. It’s touching to see how he has been welcomed by the Embassy staff and how they’ve imbibed the whole kapamilya (family) spirit that we practice at home and at work.

MAITA: His conferment of the Sikatuna award by President Aquino in January.

BEAVER: I felt so proud to have witnessed him being conferred the Highest Order of Sikatuna by President Aquino, last Jan. 11 at Malacañang.

MIKE: Seeing him receive the Order of Sikatuna from the President is something that will be etched in my mind for a very long time. The citation on the plaque, which highlights his many accomplishments as our government’s representative in Japan, is a testament to his dedication and true love of country.

What is your favorite childhood memory of, or with, your dad?

BEAVER: The many firsts and priceless moments during our family’s first trip together to the US (this was in the late ‘70s). My first time to see snow and visit Disneyland.

MAITA: My dad is an avid collector and a hobbyist. He would take us along to visit artists in their studios, nurseries of orchid growers and go antique shopping, to name a few.

MARK: I would always accompany him on Sundays to visit his orchids out of town. Sometimes, it would just be the two of us and he would enjoy driving his car. Traveling and going on vacations. I remember just hanging on to his belt wherever he went.

MIKE: Growing up for us was during the martial law years. Back then most of our businesses were either confiscated or taken away from our family by the Marcos government, so we didn’t have much and life then was very much simpler, so to speak. I will always cherish our simple weekends spent in our family’s rest house in Pansol, Laguna. My dad would personally drive his two-door sports car and us boys would egg him on to drive faster and faster (I don’t think SLEX was built yet during that time). What kept us preoccupied there were the orchids and other cut flowers that my parents seriously got into, especially my dad. We would accompany them when they visited other orchid growers in the area and cap it off by going to UP Los Baños to buy fresh milk and kesong puti. Those were the simple joys of life that I will never forget.

Any sentence or command that he often tells you?

MAITA: “Don’t spoil your kids!”

MIKE: “Don’t spend on useless things.” And, “Don’t spoil your kids!”

BEAVER: “Always render service with integrity.”

MARK: “Please fix my Internet!” I enjoy the fact that my parents are now using technology by virtue of their need to stay in touch with family back home, like most OFWs.

What is it most people don’t know about your dad?

MAITA: He is the original Mr. Kuryentipid (thrifty on electric power consumption).

BEAVER: He is a sports aficionado.

MARK: He is very simple. He enjoys having a good burger or pizza as a meal. He is very sweet and thoughtful towards my mom after 50 years. (Laughs) He enjoys having socials and rubbing elbows with the people that he works with.

MIKE: Despite all his successes, my father is still “penny wise” and “a dollar full.” He is the most frugal man I know and will continuously look for the best deal, be it for business or personal. He’s truly a role model for me.

How was Ambassador Manolo Lopez the business tycoon as a diplomat? Thanks to the officials of the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo for giving Philippine STAR exclusive interviews.

Consul General Marian Jocelyn Tirol-Ignacio said: “Ambassador Manuel Lopez and Madame Maritess Lopez are both highly regarded in diplomatic circles. They are a warm and gracious couple. They are devout Catholics, with even Madame Maritess Lopez occasionally serving at communion during Mass. She is admired for her relaxed and elegant sense of style. Ambassador Lopez is known for his strong and playful sense of humor, which he often displays in the company of Madame Maritess Lopez. As head of post, the Ambassador thinks big and expects the same of Philippine Embassy officials. He places great importance on malasakit (empathy) and sees to it as the standard by which Philippine Embassy personnel must serve.”

Minister Angelica C. Escalona had this to say: “As he came from the private sector, Ambassador Lopez brought a different way of thinking.  He has inspired us to think outside the box and to take on big challenges.  He loves our country and our kababayans. He always tells us to go the extra mile for them. He himself does this all the time. The Ambassador is a quick study, and after five years in Japan, he’s like a seasoned diplomat. While he is serious about work, his sense of humor is also very evident. He loves sharing jokes and funny stories with us.”

Escalona added: “Like the Ambassador, Madame Maritess Lopez has a sense of humor. She’s witty and perceptive, and she understands Japanese culture well. Madame is a consummate hostess. She is very gracious, and her events always exude elegance and warmth.”

On Ambassador Lopez’s civic role, Escalona said: “The tsunami and earthquake of March 2011 was Ambassador Lopez’s ‘baptism by fire.’ It happened just two months after he arrived in Tokyo.  Immediately after the earthquake, the Ambassador went to the Embassy to make sure all the officers and staff people were all right.  Because of the magnitude of the earthquake, transportation and communication services were disrupted, and a number of Embassy personnel opted to spend the night at the office. I remember Ambassador and Madame Lopez bringing home-cooked food for those of us who stayed that night, as well as on succeeding days when we were extending assistance to our kababayans round the clock.”

Escalona continued: “The Ambassador did his very best to ensure the safety and well-being of Filipinos in the affected areas. Consular teams regularly went to bring much-needed supplies and reassurance to our kababayans. The Ambassador himself went to Sendai City a couple of weeks after the earthquake to personally check the conditions of Filipinos in that area.”

Minister Josel F. Ignacio recalled an interesting anecdote: “One of the most memorable and heart-warming moments of Their Majesties’ (Emperor and Empress) visit was their encounter with Filipino tennis great Johnny Jose as they made their exit from the State Banquet at Malacañang. It was their first re-encounter in over 50 years, and was made more touching by H.M. the Empress’ very warm and personal words, in which she asked Mr. Jose: ‘I am Michiko of Japan. Do you remember me?’ Mr. Jose’s presence at the event was realized at the personal intercession of Ambassador Manuel M. Lopez with Malacañang. In the five years that he has been Ambassador to Japan, Ambassador and Mme. Lopez have had the honor of meeting Their Majesties on various occasions.”

Ignacio continued: “In these prior encounters with Their Majesties, Ambassador Lopez had been struck by the personal recollection by Their Majesties, avid tennis players and fans in their youth, of the Filipino Davis Cup players who competed in Japan in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. H.M. the Empress even recalled the players’ names — Messrs. Jose, Deyro and Ampon — and would inquire after them. Responding to this frequent mention by Their Majesties, Ambassador Lopez felt that an encounter would prove gratifying to Their Majesties and would be an honor to the Filipino players. Amb. Lopez personally relayed the matter to Malacañang Social Secretary Susan D. Reyes, and Malacañang was ultimately able to trace Mr. Jose. Their Majesties’ visit was a very formal and ceremonial affair bound by protocol and imperial tradition. Their encounter on the evening of Jan. 27 lent the five-day visit an unforgettable human interest story, and showed Their Majesties’ warm, caring personal side.” 

 

 

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