The living legacy of a business titan

The living legacy of a business titan

Progress is only possible because as a society, we all stand on the shoulders of giants. As the world continues to evolve and change, the more it becomes indebted to the efforts of those who have gone before to bring it to where it is today.

The Philippine business community recently lost Oscar Moreno Lopez. At age 93, Mr. Lopez will be remembered as a tycoon, social justice and environmental advocate, and head of the Lopez Group and conglomerate First Philippine Holdings Corp. (FPHC).

Throughout its history and even today, the Lopez Group continues to be a powerhouse in Philippine business, holding stakes in major development sectors such as broadcasting and cable; telecommunications; power generation and distribution; manufacturing; and property development. In the past, it even had investments in healthcare, information technology, banking, and public infrastructure.

Given the level of contribution companies like ABS-CBN Corp., First Gen Corp., and Rockwell Land Corp. had brought to the country, it would not be an overstatement to say that Mr. Lopez had been instrumental in the development of the Philippines.

Indeed, FPHC, which holds principal interests in clean and renewable energy, is leading the way to create a decarbonized and renewable energy future for the country.

“He (Oscar) was our North Star, the inspiration and guide for succeeding generations of Lopez Group executives and employees who learned to treasure and practice with him the Group’s distinct core values: a pioneering entrepreneurial spirit, business excellence, unity, nationalism and social justice,” FPHC said in a statement.

The history of the Lopez Group of companies is marred with conflict and adversity.

Mr. Lopez took over the reins of the conglomerate when his brother Eugenio “Geny” Lopez, Jr. passed away in 1999. Both of them inherited the leadership from Don Eugenio “Eing” Lopez, Sr., a Harvard-educated lawyer and entrepreneur.

Mr. Lopez, Sr. is a famous critic of the then-President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. The Lopez businesses at the time, which included Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), ABS-CBN, PCIBank, and the Manila Chronicle were confiscated after the declaration of martial law in 1972.

Around the same time, Mr. Eugenio Lopez, Jr. was imprisoned until his escape on Sept. 30, 1977.

Meralco, ABS-CBN, PCIBank, and the remainder of the conglomerate were returned to the Lopez family after People Power in February 1986. The company, now called First Philippine Holdings, grew even larger, more powerful, and more profitable under the leadership of the two brothers.

But the challenges of both business and politics continued to hound the company, which led to the loss of control of Meralco (now under Manuel V. Pangilinan of the Salim Group), the tollways business (now under Metro Pacific Investments Corp. or MPIC of PLDT Group), and the water business (also now under MPIC).

Most recently, the ABS-CBN franchise was denied a renewal by Congress in June 2020 after the network angered the then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte.

Since then, Mr. Lopez endeavored to keep the family business out of politically-involved commercial ventures. He invested heavily in renewable energy (85% of the P177-billion industry, up 36% in 2022) and other premium real estate (including homes, shopping centers, and industrial estates), as well as building and energy solutions.

Mr. Lopez’s advocacies were already well-known at the time, being honored in 2001 by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) with the Management Man of the Year award for his strategy of implementing profit alongside other two components of his triple bottom line: people (society) and location (environment).

Mr. Lopez is a pioneering champion for businesses’ roles in tackling climate change due to his lifelong interest in nature, science, and the environment.

Beginning his career at the Manila Chronicle, a newspaper owned by his family, he launched the Philippines’ first science beat and published the country’s first gardening magazine, Philippine Farms and Gardens.

When he was tasked with rescuing First Philippine Holdings in 1986, he not only helped the company pay off its debt; he also provided funding for an investment in reforesting 1,000 acres of degraded land in Tarlac.

When FPHC bought the Energy Development Corp. (EDC), it also took over responsibility for the watersheds that supplied the geothermal plants, making it financially prudent to restore and conserve the forests. BINHI, EDC’s environmental legacy, was born. The plan called for reforesting one thousand hectares annually for a decade.

At the 2007 First Gen Stockholders’ Meeting, he warned that “the pressure to switch to cleaner fuels and sources of energy that produce less carbon as a byproduct” is occurring against the backdrop of “the growing threat of global warming.”

To combat the climate issue and assist in the development of climate-resilient communities in the Philippines, Mr. Lopez established the nonprofit Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Foundation, Inc. in 2012. More known as OML Center, the organization has a goal of equipping Filipinos with the tools they need to overcome adversity on their own.

“It is our responsibility, each and every one of us, to protect our environment from further harm — and also to protect ourselves from the harm that we have already wrought upon our environment. For in abusing our environment, we have made ourselves vulnerable to the undesirable effects of that abuse,” Mr. Lopez was quoted as saying.

Today, the center works toward this objective by spreading relevant climate-related scientific knowledge to multiple sectors of society, and collaborating closely with corporate and governmental decision-makers, who are in the best position to take long-term climate action.

The center also aims to equip industries and communities with the knowledge and resources necessary for effective risk management in a changing climate.

The core principle upon which the center is based is that no Filipino should have to tackle climate issues unprepared. By providing them with cutting-edge scientific knowledge and technological tools, the organization hopes to forestall impending climatic catastrophes in the country.

Mr. Lopez attended Harvard University, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1951 and his Master of Public Administration in 1955.

In 2010, both De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran