Oscar Lopez
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas () - July 5, 2005 - 12:00am
A great moment for the Lopez Group of companies was the bestowal recently of the German government’s Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit (Verdiensstkreuz 1. Klasse) on the chair and CEO of Benpres Holdings Corp., Oscar M. Lopez. Mr. Lopez, said Ambassador Axel Weishaupt at inspired ceremonies held at the embassy residence, was the first Filipino to receive the highest award given to businessmen by the Federal Republic of Germany.

The conferment got together the immediate relatives of Mr. Lopez, his associates and closest friends. As the recipient talked about how the award had come about, the audience recalled the saga of the Lopez family – of the rise and fall and remarkable recovery of a legendary business empire that is part and parcel of the Philippine political and economic landscape. It is no wonder that the Lopez family biography is aptly called "Phoenix, the Saga of the Lopez Family."

In his acceptance message, Mr. Lopez recalled the friendship that was born and nurtured between the Philippine and German governments during the last 50 years. He said, "Fifty years . . . is a long time in any relationship. A lot of things have happened in both our countries during that period. We got ourselves a local tyrant ruling over us for 20 of those 50 years and we also got ourselves rid of him in a glorious People Power revolution that set a trend for freedom rolling for many countries in the world, including Germany. For it was also during this time, shortly after our EDSA revolution that the Berlin wall fell, and with it, a new era in world politics and economy opened."

The Lopez Group, he said, greeted this new era by renewing business ties with their German friends. In October 1997, they broke ground for the Sta. Rita gas turbine power plant, again with Siemens but this time with First Gas Power Corp., a subsidiary of First Philippine Holdings Corp., but still with Meralco as end consumer. Sta. Rita and subsequently, San Lorenzo combined with a capacity of 1,500 megawatts using natural gas being produced for the first time from a Philippine field, the Malampaya natural gas fields off Palawan.

On the broadcast media side of the Lopez Group, the IT sector of ABS-CBN utilizes the German software system from SAP, a German information technology company, to manage their finance and logistics. The Group also chose this German software company to provide the system being used in managing the complex operations of Maynilad Water, including the billing of some 600,000 customers. ABS-CBN technical personnel are also recipients of several scholarship grants from the German government for training at the Deutsche Welle Television Training Center in Berlin.

Their worldwide satellite TV network called TFCD or the Filipino Channel Direct has penetrated the German market with a 250 household subscriber base, but this number, Mr. Lopez said, is expected to increase, as Filipinos living in Germany better know the system. In North America today, more than 200,000 households subscribe to TFC.

Mr. Lopez took cognizance of the Lopez Group’s relationship with two German institutions – the Kreditanstalt Fuer Wiederaufbau, which provided long-term financing for the power plants, and Siemens.

The Group’s partnership with German corporations resulted in the German government’s asking him to be a co-chairman of the German-Philippine Business Council in 2001; the Council promotes bilateral business relationships.

More than the business relationships, Mr. Lopez and his wife, Connie, became enamored with German art and culture, attending concerts and operas in Berlin, Beyrouth and Salzburg, and good friends of the Siemens family. At a time when the Lopez family was experiencing its lows from the dictatorship’s takeover of the Lopez businesses, Dr. Peter von Siemens Sr. wrote a letter to Marcos to intercede for Oscar’s late brother Geny, who was incarcerated in a military camp for political reasons. It was an act that the Lopezes would value forever.

Mr. Lopez viewed "with regret the acrimonious dispute" regarding the NAIA 3 project. He said, "I do not know enough about the dispute to understand why the normal conflict resolution processes so utterly failed to provide a break through the impasse. But it is my hope that reason will eventually prevail and an acceptable solution will be found to allow the airport to finally be operated and this long standing thorn on Philippine-German relations removed once and for all." He added that perhaps, future projects of this nature between the Philippine and German entities could follow "the model we have set between us in the Lopez Group and Siemens. Hopefully, commercial relationships between Germans and Filipinos will all be built on the solid foundations of equity, respect and mutual interest."

Oscar is said to be the quieter, intellectual brother of the late Eugenio (Geny); both are descended from the astute Eugenio (Ening) Lopez, one of the leading sugar tycoons of his time and who also established the Lopez family tradition of philanthropy and public service. He was one of the most influential men in Iloilo politics and business, a de facto head of the Nationalista Party whose support for candidates for local office meant a lot.

He went to the Littauer School of Government, Harvard University. His thesis was a history of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and, though critical of Marxism, it showed nevertheless sympathy for oppressed peasants.

Oscar’s compassionate nature shines through in his dealings with associates and company employees. My colleague, Rosalinda L. Orosa, wrote about him a couple of weeks ago, describing him as publisher of the Manila Chronicle from 1962 to 1965 as never throwing his weight around. "Like his father Don Eugenio, he kept a low profile: he was soft-spoken and gentle but firm. The staffers enjoyed a unique brand of democracy; for instance, we called the editors and publishers (except Don Eugenio) by their first names; the publishers encouraged camaraderie among reporters and editors. (STAR publisher Max Soliven, who once worked with the Chronicle can attest to this.)"
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E-mail: dominimt2000@yahoo.com

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