My joining the Lopez Group is really a homecoming. I distinctly remember that in 1961, as a young lawyer who just passed the bar examinations and as an assistant in the law firm of Dr. Jovito R. Salonga, I was asked to draft the Articles of Incorporation of what was to be named Meralco Securities Corporation (MSC). Dr. Salonga’s law firm, now dissolved, was retained by Don Eugenio Lopez Sr. as counsel. Later, Meralco Securities Corporation was renamed First Philippine Holdings Corporation. MSC was organized by Don Ening to be the company that was to purchase Meralco from its American owners, the General Public Utilities Corporation.
As a struggling neophyte in the profession of law, I could not have dreamt of becoming a director of the biggest business venture to be undertaken by any Filipino group at that time. You see — in the 1950’s and 1960’s — the largest Philippine businesses like Meralco, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Benguet Consolidated were all owned and managed by Americans. But because of the nationalization provisions of our Constitution and the then looming expiration of the Laurel Langley Agreement, these companies had to be Filipinized. The first and biggest American firm to be so Filipinized was Meralco. The Lopez take-over was the most daring in the history of our country up to that time.Although First Holdings was envisioned to be a holding company for Meralco, it later metamorphosed into the giant multi-faceted group that it is today, owning companies engaged in such diverse fields as infrastructure, real estate development, manufacturing and others.
However, the significance of my joining the Lopez Group goes beyond mere sentimentality. It also involves becoming part of a highly-principled and ethical conglomerate. To be associated with the Lopez empire is to be part of a business with a conscience, with honor, with dignity and with respect, and always striving for excellence both in the corporate and in the personal sense. Although the Lopezes financially control the boards where I sit as an independent director, there has never been an instance when the patriarchs or anyone speaking for them has bulldozed his or her way, or insisted on an unreasonable proposal or suggestion.
Quite the contrary, they have always respected the views and comments as well as the dignity and individuality of every director. Let me therefore say that my expectation of joining a principled conglomerate with a shared vision and mission has been amply fulfilled. Excellence is thus spelled out in terms of giving one’s best all the time and all the way.When decisions and actions are made in the Lopez boards, the main question is not merely: Is the proposed transaction economically viable and profitable. The questions are equally: Is the proposal legal, moral and ethical in every way? Is it consistent with the corporate philosophy of service, excellence and integrity? Will it enhance not only the interests of investors, customers, employees and suppliers but also the community and the people at large especially the poor and the marginalized?
Most of the Lopez enterprises are highly regulated by the government. That is why it would be natural and understandable if the owners make every effort to be on the right side of high government leaders. And that is not really difficult to do because they also own and control a huge media network that reaches people in all walks of life, not only in the Philippines but all over the world. But the Lopezes have a tradition of dignity and independence. They would not sidle up with politicians or polish regulators to advance their business interests. They would not exchange truth, good governance and ethical behavior for facilitation and convenience. I am sure that if they would agree to compromise their principles and ethics, they would be able to build a much larger business empire and to earn much more money. But they would rather stand up for what is right and lasting, rather than for what is convenient and passing.I too believe in this principled policy and visionary approach to business problems as well as in the culture of responsibility for the poor and the less privileged. Like the Lopezes, I believe in personal integrity as the lasting basis of any relationship, whether it is among members of a family, or among business associates, or among officials and employees in a business enterprise.
By integrity I refer not only to honesty but also to truth. A person of integrity acts in accordance with what is true and honest regardless of personal consequences. To act with integrity is to act with moral courage. This involves not only theoretical bravery in battle but, a priori, a purity of spirit and clarity of conscience. For only one who is pure of heart and clear of mind can act with integrity.
All of us in our daily lives are besieged by many events outside our control. Sometimes we feel frustrated, even defeated. But let us not give up; let us not be overtaken by them. No matter what happens, let us continue acting with integrity, let us continue to persevere with excellence and responsibility, let us continue to believe in ourselves, continue to believe in our ultimate victory.
Like the proverbial phoenix, the Lopez Group has been victimized, wounded, unfairly treated, even taken over illegally and arbitrarily, but with God’s overpowering grace, it has risen from the ashes and has been restored, revitalized and reborn even stronger, larger and mightier. As the Good Book says in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:8-9):
We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed;
Full of doubts, we never despair.
We are persecuted but never abandoned;
We are struck down but never destroyed.
And so I say to all of you today, forge on. Walk on. Let us continue doing our best for our companies and communities, for we know that God is with us and will always help us.