Manna Vargas shares a bonding moment with her grandfather OMLThis issue features Manna, the only daughter of Vicente “Enteng” Vargas and Cedie Lopez Vargas. After more than a year of presenting the new Values Vanguards, there is this common thread that is seen and this is the closeness of family members. With this closeness, family values are reinforced and strengthened. It also shows how much this generation has to do to prove themselves as the next in line to make sure their companies are “built to last.”
Kindly give your full name. Why is your nickname “Manna”? Please give us a brief narrative of your educational background and courses taken in later years.
My name is Marianna Lopez Vargas, more commonly known as Manna to my family, friends and peers. While most people assume it was a reference to “manna from heaven,” in my dad’s own words it was simply because “it was a nice shortcut for Marianna.”
I went to the University of New South Wales in Sydney, initially intent on pursuing a degree in marine biology. Ocean conservation and turtles (!!!) were matters close to my heart throughout high school which propelled the idealist in me, at that point, to pursue it as a career.
During my first semester at university, I was taking a range of classes in the area of environment, but became particularly fascinated with the sustainable development discourse. I became interested in how protecting our environment enshrined the principles of intergenerational equity and inclusive development.
I eventually graduated in 2013, not with a marine biology degree but with a bachelor’s degree in environment and development. I then completed my master’s in international relations immediately after in 2015. Earlier this year, I began my MBA at the Ateneo Professional Schools.
How was it growing up as the only daughter of Enteng and Cedie? How about your brothers, how protective were they?
There is this misconception that because I grew up with three older brothers I was coddled and overly protected, but this wasn’t the case at all. I never felt like the conditions were significantly different because I was the youngest and only girl.
The sentiment “because you are a girl” definitely wasn’t thrown around enough for me to believe that the rules, limitations and opportunities available to me were any different to those of my brothers. I am incredibly grateful to my parents for that perspective.
I think this is perhaps why, as I grew older and women’s rights and gender equality became more articulated throughout society, these were discussions I easily gravitated towards. I was raised believing that the contexts in which men and women succeed, as well as fail, are the same.
I credit my brothers for strengthening that sense of certainty in me. I grew up with their tough love. But not the kind of tough love that tears you down, rather the kind that challenges you to act authentically and hold true to your convictions. All of this, of course, must be done with a sense of humor. One would not survive the Lopez-Vargas household if you took yourself too seriously and didn’t have an unwavering sense of humor.
Why the environment? What made this a cause for you? Can you tell us your job history related to this?
As far as I can remember, breathtaking natural landscapes were a large part of my childhood. My Tata, OML [her grandfather, Lopez Group chairman emeritus Oscar M. Lopez], valued bringing us all together in some of the most beautiful environments in the Philippines and I credit those memories for nurturing my inner desires to contribute to their protection.
But I don’t consider myself an environmentalist. My inherent passions may have started out similar to that of an environmentalist, but fundamentally, I don’t think I am deserving of that title. I still care deeply about the environment, but I believe that the environmental challenges of our time have become so inextricable from our daily lives that to regard the advocacy as an environmental one would be too simplistic when you consider the plight of the people suffering most from these challenges.
If you look at any instance where natural environments were irresponsibly exploited, you will almost always find a community that has suffered greatly, and others who have benefited enormously from the activity. Climate change is a phenomenon such as this, but done on a global scale.
The social injustices brought about by irresponsible management of the environment are what I am concerned with today. The country is, and perhaps will continue to be, one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, a problem we are not even responsible for causing.
However, we don’t resign ourselves to just being mere victims. The OML Center—where you will find me these days—is a testament to that. Regardless of what the global community does to address climate change at this point, Filipinos are suffering and will continue to suffer because of more extreme weather events such as typhoons, floods and prolonged drought, among other climate-related impacts.
How were you taught the Lopez Values of nationalism, business excellence, pioneering entrepreneurial spirit, etc.?
I don’t think I was technically taught these values. I learned them through experience, through witnessing my family and the people working for the companies embody these values in everything that they do.
I grew up with a steadfast belief that the growth of a business should never be at the expense of society. Public service is not a choice you make but rather a responsibility to the social fabric that allows you to succeed. I had the privilege of seeing what it was like when you work in harmony with the social and ecological as well as the economic systems that govern an entity’s existence. It is not without challenges but you do it because it is simply the right thing to do. And that has never left me.
Who influenced you the most growing up? What aspect did you admire in this person?
I have been asked this question numerous times and I’ll never tire of saying my mom. I could easily go on and on about her admirable qualities but if I were to simply choose one, it would be her intelligence. Not just on an intellectual level, but the depth of her understanding of people, situations, challenges, etc.
I can’t anymore count the number of instances when my decision was based on “What would Cedie do?” “What would Cedie say?” In fact, when faced with a complicated predicament in our household, the default mode would be to “ask Mom.” This is because my mom could look at a situation with exceptional perspective and selflessness, that in anything you do or say you must consider the other. It is a way of thinking that I am still growing into, but one that I hope to espouse in everything that I do.
How is it working in a Lopez Group company?
It is one of my greatest privileges to be working with such amazing people. And I mean this not just for my colleagues at the OML Center but across all the other companies which I have had the pleasure of working with. I have been with the center for a little over two years now, but I have also had internships at ABS-CBN and ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation. Because of my specific functions at the center, I also have numerous opportunities to interact with people from the various other companies.
More than what I learn from the work itself, I value what I have learned from and about the people working in Lopez Group companies. They are incredibly passionate, values-driven and genuinely good people. My family has always emphasized investing in people and cultivating meaningful relationships with employees so that the sense of community becomes a stronger force than whatever challenge may come their way. I had never really appreciated that sentiment until I started working in one of the companies
It is constantly inspiring to meet and engage with people who not only view their jobs as a simply a job, but as a means of doing right by society. Working for a Lopez Group entity is not easy in these current times. There are various social and economic (as well as political) factors that are making everyone’s work all the more challenging. However, when I look around, I see a community working harder together to overcome these challenges, and an astounding sense of loyalty.
What advice would you give your younger cousins regarding living up to the Lopez Values and the responsibilities that go with it?
We are incredibly lucky to come from a family with strong values and we should remember to never take these values for granted. Especially in times like these when the lines between black and white are blurring, and moral and ethical gray areas are growing. It will be these values that will guide us through confusing times and in making crucial life decisions.
The sentiment “becauseyou are a girl” definitely wasn’tthrown around enough for meto believe that the rules, limitationsand opportunities availableto me were any different tothose of my brothers. I am incrediblygrateful to my parentsfor that perspective. (Story Photo by: Dulce Festin-Baybay)