"And I admired her for that."
My first interview with Regina “Gina” Lopez ended in bitter argument. It was a disaster. I was then senior correspondent of Hong Kong-based Asiaweek covering the politics, business, and the economy of the Philippines.
The interview with Gina in 1997 was a request of her dad, the late Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr., to give me a complete picture of the vast Lopez business empire—media, telecommunications, water distribution, power generation and distribution, toll roads and land development.
Geny, a genial good friend, arranged the interview with two of his children—Gabby Lopez, the headman of ABS-CBN, and Gina, the head of the ABS-CBN Foundation. At its prime, ABS-CBN was a money machine. It could raise ad rates at will and advertisers could not complain.
Gabby Lopez managed the broadcast profits. Gina Lopez helped dissipate it, as the head of the TV giant’s social responsibility arm. Being a fourth-generation Lopez in the colossal business empire, Gina could do wonders. You were a Lopez. You were backed by the most powerful and influential media organization in the land. You could not but succeed.
I wrote of Gina in 1997:
“As chief executive of ABS-CBN Foundation, the 43-year-old Gina spends $1.5 million annually on educational television, aid for abused and homeless children, and disaster victims. She was a free spirit as a teenager—she ran away from home at age 18 and lived in Africa for 11 years. She isn’t motivated by making money. Gina has dispatched some 4,000 free TV sets to 52 cities in efforts to reach some four-million Filipino kids with an educational tool. ‘My idea of wealth is inner wealth’.”
As an 18-year-old heiress in 1972, Gina had everything going for her—great wealth, great power, great organization. Instead of rushing headlong to join that organization, Gina left it.
In my interview, I asked her many probing questions why someone of her stature of wealth, power and prestige would abandon it, hie away to faraway places like India, Portugal, Africa, in search of her soul. Instead of making the family fortune grow, she did things like yoga, meditation, praying upside down, and Ananda Marga. At that time, I thought Gina was crazy.
Even after her untimely death early morning of Aug. 19, 2019, from brain cancer, I still believed she was nuts. I admired Gina for that, being crazy. She was the soft face of the Lopez empire which is sometimes perceived as exceedingly profit-making, rapacious, ruthless. She made the Lopez name relevant, lovable, enduring.
Her family was the prototype of the 100 elite families that have ruled this archipelago of 7,300 islands for the last 100 years. Yet, she went against the Establishment. You have to be crazy to fight the Establishment. Because usually, you don’t win. This explains why she was ousted as the secretary of the environment under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Gina’s family dispensed basic services—electricity, water, television, roads. Yet, in her teenage years, she went to places where these did not exist. Like Africa.
In an article originally written for Rogue magazine in March 2016, Gina recalled her Africa years:
“I lived for six years in Kenya. Two of those years were in a slum area where we had to stand in line for water, and the toilet system was pathetic. It was there that I learned to value water. I had one pail, and that was it: For bathing myself and using the last bit for washing my underwear. When one doesn’t have much, one treasures every little bit. I lived as the poor lived, so I learned how not to be wasteful—a trait I carry to this day where I use every bit of everything. I learned how to value empty containers, because they can be of use eventually. It is in Africa that I learned the quality of persistence. Hardship has its value…”
“In the organization, I was sent to places without money or contacts; I was thrown in the sea to swim. I survived and learned the value of guts and will…”
“In the 20 years I was a missionary, I never experienced lack of money or food. It was not a luxurious life, but I always had enough for basic needs. The only time I can remember going hungry was during training, because it partly involved restricting food. I do not think this is advisable for spiritual growth because one can’t concentrate if one is hungry. Instead of feeling the Divine, one is thinking of dinner.”
“Africans have a very simple temperament, sometimes almost like children. This resonated with my own temperament, so I was quite happy there. It was a different life, a different world. I eventually had to go home since I fell in love with my husband, who at the time was my boss.”
So there—the lessons of life. Privation gives you character, the will to live, that you must fight for your wants. And to live simply. Go basic. Love nature. Please note Gina came from a family that held parties where expensive champagne was drawn literally from fountains.
Concluded Gina in her article:
“Life is what you make of it. The experience of life is how you see it. You can see it negatively or you can see even the seeming failures as a positive opportunity to grow. If we take on this positive bent, everyone around benefits. My consistent experience in life is that as long as one commits to integrity and service, there are Divine Forces that help. I feel it every day, when I meditate in the morning, as I do my work. Life is a challenge. There are also negative forces that exist, and they are within one’s self. One needs to be keenly aware of them.”