Privileged by Birth, Populist by Choice

Greetings delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the birthday celebration of Mr. Manual M. Lopez, Chairman and CEO of Meralco, on May 21, 2010 at the Meralco Fitness Center.

Leony de la Llana, the brains and baton-wielder in today’s “Copa,” honored me a few days ago when she asked me to say a few words about our celebrant. I first met Don Manolo M. Lopez three years ago, in early 2007, after I retired from the Supreme Court, when he and the two other Lopez patriarchs, Oscar M. Lopez and Eugenio (Gabby) L. Lopez III, invited me to join First Philippine Holdings Corporation as an independent director.

A year later, in early May 2008, Don Manolo called me up in New York, where I was doing my APOstolate with my grandchildren, and offered me a another independent director’s seat, this time in Meralco. Since there were only two candidates for the two vacant independent directorships, I did not have any difficulty being elected during the Meralco election on May 27, 2008.

However, the struggle for the regular directorships was phenomenally difficult. It lasted from nine in the morning to twelve midnight, the longest and most tumultuous stockholders’ meeting I have ever attended. As you probably know, a group challenged – although in the end, unsuccessfully – the Lopez control of Meralco in a bruising proxy and legal battle that went all the way to, and won by the Lopez group, in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The length and tumult did not end with the shareholders’ election; it extended to every meeting of the board of directors thereafter. In the board meetings that followed, the leader of the minority block harangued Meralco Chairman Manolo Lopez and repeatedly accused him and his family of various alleged misdeeds, which I will no longer detail now. Suffice it to say that, coupled with the constant prayers of Mrs. Maritess Lopez, Manolo’s shield as a gentleman and presiding officer was tested and found impregnable. Indeed, it was impervious to every dart and arrow thrown at him.

Though provoked many times by hostile language and sometimes unpredictable behavior, Don Manolo never lost his temper. He was always cool to a fault, bearing every unkind word with admirable serenity, never retorting – not even once – with intemperate words, much less with bristle or disgust. When he could no longer bear the heat, he would leave the conference room for a while to cool off and always came back with a clear mind. He continued to steer the meeting with poise, equanimity and a steely determination to finish the business at hand.

Indeed, in my book, he is courageous but not pugnacious, prudent but not tentative, humble but not wimpy. He is firm with his decisions, responsible with his actions and cadenced with his language. Never vindictive, Don Manolo conquered the natural tendency to hit-back at detractors with admirable, Jesus-like self-restraint that earned him the esteem and respect of everyone, including some directors who represented the minority bloc.

Now, those difficult days are over. His main critic has left the board and the company. And Don Manolo won the bruising corporate war with equanimity, grace and fortitude. He now continues his work tirelessly, armed with lessons learned from the experience and determined to win the future in his own inimitable way.

During these days of peace and prosperity in the company, he continues to be a glutton for work and a master of teamwork. Though privileged by birth, he is populist by choice. A firm believer in corporate social responsibility, he always finds ways to help the rank and file employees with health plans, production incentives, performance-based compensation, stock options and other innovative benefits. He motivates them by his personal example of integrity and devotion to duty. He is equally at ease with the common employees as he is with the executives of the company and the titans of Philippine business.

Don Manolo, may you never tire of being yourself; of being prudent, responsible, humble and pro-people. May you never forget your family’s legacy of country first before personal and business interests. May you always stay young in spirit, mature in temper and ever grow in wisdom. May you continue to live a long, healthy and happy life, in the company of your lovely and sweet Maritess and in the embrace of your loving children and grandchildren.

Mabuhay po kayo and Happy Birthday.

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