Politics

Manuel ‘Manolo’ Lopez, 80

5 Mins read
ROCKWELL LAND

Manuel “Manolo” Moreno Lopez, former Meralco president and CEO, former ambassador to Japan, grandfather, father, husband, a public servant within the private sector and, most of all, a gentleman, passed away at the age of 80 on Jan. 12.

Perhaps, the best way to accurately describe and narrate Manolo’s life is to refer to Manolo, A Portrait, photo book put together by his wife, Marites Lagdameo, to honor him on his 80th birthday on May 24, 2022. The book is devoid of hyperbole, exaggerations, and downright misrepresentations to create a false identity. Manolo never needed such contrived, slick, and PR-oriented “alternative facts” because he, his family, and those who counted in his life, knew who he really was.

He was, as 1987 Constitution framer and former Commission on Election (Comelec) chairman Christian Monsod said in the photo tribute, a person of “quiet accomplishment.”

Portrait covers the years from 1942, the Martial Law period, the EDSA Revolution, Manolo’s retirement from Meralco, his ambassadorial stint in Tokyo, up to 2019, the year Manolo suffered a massive stroke. But that is going a bit ahead.

We engaged Manolo when he and my eldest brother, Luis or Sonny, were high school student-cadets at the Baguio Military Institute (BMI) and I was a grade school student at La Salle at Taft Ave. Sonny had heard of bullying by much older and bigger boys, twice my size, and he decided to visit the campus during recess with Manolo. Sonny had been a victim of a slapping incident when he was in Grade Two by a boy three grades ahead of him. He wasn’t going to let that happen to his younger sibling and invited an all-too-willing Manolo to sort out the matter. The two were able to confront the group of three boys who denied the “allegation.” Upon questioning, they said that they had actually engaged in bullying but were just teasing and perhaps taunting.

That was one aspect of Manolo’s character that constantly surfaces in the Portrait: fierce loyalty to friends as mentioned by Marites and close buddies. These close boyhood friendships were built over the years at BMI and the exchange of visits among the BMIers’ homes where their parents, like mine, would host seven or eight hungry young men for lunch or dinner when they would come down from Irisan Heights, just outside Baguio City, during the summer break.

In the Introduction that Marites wrote, she confirms this quality of Manolo’s personality, “But if there is any aspect of his life that speaks of him so well, it is the enduring presence of those alongside him. Beside his family, Manolo is almost never without the company of longtime colleagues, close business associates, fellow (art, guns, orchids, parrot, cockatoo) collectors, or boyhood friends. Where there were communal breakfasts and common hobbies before the global pandemic, there are now weekly Zooms and constant catchups over phone calls and group chats. All throughout this period of physical isolation, he has nurtured the bonds of friendship across multiple time zones and even multiple generations.”

Feeling isolated and sorry for oneself was something from which Manolo (and probably the entire Eugenio Lopez, Sr. Clan) was immune. Despite all the threats to their businesses and personal safety, the Lopezes, including Manolo, took all these as part of rendering “service to the Filipino people” in the most objective and truthful way.

As Marites says in the Introduction, “But you see, Manolo was never one to feel isolated — not even during the most difficult times across all the various posts he has held and the organizations he has led. Through the terror of Martial Law, the many storms that shook the corporate boardrooms, and the literal earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan very shortly after he became ambassador, Manolo’s spirit was always held aloft by the fierce loyalty and friendship of those around him, and by his own deep sense of responsibility towards his friends, his countrymen and his nation.”

In 1965, a newly married Manolo — after a stint at the Sta. Clara University — left his job at PCI Bank to accept his father’s invitation to join Meralco. He started his career at the bottom, working with meter readers and bill collectors.

Very fresh in one’s memory is the message three nights ago of Manolo’s youngest child, Mike, chairman of ABS-CBN, in response to the outpouring of sympathy for the Lopez family during the last night of Manolo’s four-day wake at Rockwell. Mike recalled that Manolo had asked his people to put together a management development program for him that included going up with linesmen to fix Meralco electric poles and installations, and to eat with ordinary linesmen “boodle style” while out in the city streets.

In 1966, Manolo was assigned to General Services where he was appointed Vice-President in charge of Purchasing and public relations. In 1968, Manolo got a chance to be involved in one of his favorite sports — basketball. Manolo served as owner of the Meralco Reddy Kilowatts after the Ysmael Steel Admirals disbanded and Manolo formed the Meralco team. The Reddy Kilowatts won a couple of championships on the backs of Sonny Jaworski, Big Boy Reynoso, Orly Bauzon, Boy Marquee, Larry Mumar and, later on, Francis Arnaiz. The Reddy Kilowatts were coached, at different times, by Fely Fajardo, Tito Eduque, and Bay Mumar.

In 1969, Manolo was appointed concurrent CEO of Meralco’s engineering subsidiary, Philippine Engineering and Construction Co. (PECCO). That same year, Manolo went to Harvard Business School to attend the Management Development Program. It is also during this year that Ferdinand Marcos made history by being the first Philippine president to get reelected. His vice-president, Fernando Lopez, Manolo’s uncle, was also reelected. After what should have been a celebration of a viable partnership, Marcos removed Fernando Lopez (FL) from the equation and eliminated a threat to the ambitions of another “FL.”

On Sept. 20, 1972, Manolo was on a Qantas airplane, flying back to Manila from a business trip in Australia, when Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 putting the entire country under Martial Law. Marcos also signed Letter of Instruction No. 2 ordering the military to take over all public utilities like Meralco. The order was carried out in the early hours of Saturday, Sept. 23, 1972, together with the arrest of opposition leaders like Ninoy Aquino, Jose W. Diokno and, a few days later, Eugenio Lopez, Jr.

On Feb. 28, 1986, Manolo returned to Meralco after being appointed its deputy officer in charge as it was one of several companies sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG). Upon his return, Manolo was hoisted on the shoulders of euphoric employees and officials of the utility.

Shortly after we assumed office as Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform in July 1987, Manolo and I flew on a Meralco helicopter over huge tract of land in then rebel-influenced Jalajala town in Rizal. Manolo said that Meralco was donating the land to the government’s comprehensive agrarian reform program. The power utility had shelved its plans to put up a nuclear power plant in the area. During the chopper rise, Manolo reminded me of the fun times he and my brother had. I reminded him in turn of the La Salle visit he and my brother made on “my behalf.”

On Sept. 30, 1991, after a five-year legal battle with the government over the ownership of Meralco, the Supreme Court lifted the sequestration order on the Meralco shares. The Lopez family gained 16% of Meralco through Benpres and First Philippine Holdings. After 18 years, Manolo was Meralco CEO without the need for a presidential appointment.

There is more that one can write about Manolo’s life which is very much intertwined — by fate and through no fault of his — with Philippine politics and its personalities. We stop at this point.

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.