Lopez Group. Almeda Lopez and Fragante were presented with their awards during the 2016 Lopez Achievement Awards ceremony.Two pillars of the Lopez Group, Atty. Augusto “Jake” Almeda Lopez and Margarita “Margot” Fragante, took their well-deserved bows as the newest recipients of Lifetime Achievement Awards from the
Almeda Lopez was a classmate of Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. at the Ateneo in the 1940s and became so close they were often thought to be related. Almeda Lopez is the son of Tiburcio Lopez, a former governor of Tayabas (now Quezon province). His mother, Natividad Almeda Lopez, was the Philippines’ first female judge.
He got his law degree from the University of the Philippines in 1952, placing fourth in the bar exams. After stints with various law offices and a detour to Mindanao where he tried his hand at ranching, he rejoined his classmate Geny in Manila, first as the Lopezes’ lawyer, then at the fledgling ABS-CBN in 1961. He became the broadcasting giant’s general manager in 1966. He built the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center in 1967-68.
Geny paid him the highest compliment when he declared that his good friend Jake was the “soul” of ABS-CBN. He was the kindly boss that employees approached when they needed an advance on their salary or had any other request. Almeda Lopez was loyal to his staff to the point of sharing the risks inherent with their work. Wearing the blue bush jacket uniform of a “Radyo Patrol” reporter, Almeda Lopez would go into the field to cover a violent demonstration with the regular team.
In fact, Almeda Lopez would even take the mic and help deliver on-the-spot reports using the radio name “George.” He would be subject to the same risks of inhaling tear gas and being hit by police truncheons as any “Radyo Patrol” reporter.
Almeda Lopez defied the dictator’s iron will by leading protest actions after Geny was imprisoned. Eventually, Almeda Lopez was imprisoned himself for a year.
His prison experience didn’t stop Almeda Lopez from helping Geny escape from military prison in 1977. He was a key participant in the meticulous planning for the daring escape from the heavily guarded prison for political prisoners at Fort Bonifacio.
After the successful escape, he joined Geny in exile in the US and protested the Marcos dictatorship from abroad. But life in exile didn’t suit him. He longed to return to his country but he was too high on the list of enemies of the dictatorship to do that. He eventually decided to slip in the country via the southern backdoor but was arrested.
When the EDSA revolution happened, Almeda Lopez was ready to welcome Geny back and helped him regain control of ABS-CBN and other Lopez enterprises, including First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPH), the former Meralco Securities Corporation (MSC).
Geny had said: “Jake’s got a good heart, a lot of malasakit, and so people trust him. He is par excellence when it comes to interpersonal relationships. learned so much about people from him, about the importance of treating employees well—listening to them, dealing with them, giving them what they truly deserve. [In the early days of ABS-CBN] I was all efficiencyand profit-oriented. Jake would balance me beautifully. …I am very grateful for that, because looking back now, if a lot of our employees remained loyal to us, it was mainly because of him.”
Almeda Lopez was vice chairman of ABS-CBN from 1989. He also served as vice chairman of FPH from 1993 to 2010.
‘Part of family treasure’
Fragante was already working with the Lopez companies before World War II.
In his speech on his 75th birthday celebration, then Lopez Group chairman Oscar M. Lopez (OML) said she was part of an event that he couldn’t forget. “This happening took place in April of 1945. The Americans had already landed in Lingayen Gulf and had already retaken Manila from the Japanese. But my father’s and mother’s combined families, we were all stuck up in Baguio and running short of food and constantly subjected to shelling and bombing by the Americans. My father decided that we should all walk down to the American lines in La Union.
“There was about 70 or 80 altogether in our entourage. It took us two nights and three days to walk across several mountains, skirting the Japanese lines and finally reaching the American troops in Tubao, La Union. My brother Manolo was only two years old then so Geny and I took turns carrying him on our backs because he could not walk any longer after the first day. Geny was 16 years old and I was 15. We were not, however, the only ones who accomplished this feat. There were literally thousands of civilians who either went ahead or followed us on this trek especially after the carpet bombing of Baguio City by American planes in March of 1945 which devastated the city and killed many residents. Some of the survivors of that trek—let’s call it a trek to freedom and not a death march—are here with us today.
“One is Rusty Cacho, CEO of Panay Electric Co. which is the counterpart of Meralco in Iloilo City. First Holdings is a 30% owner of Panay Electric and Rusty and I have talked many times about that event in our lives. Rusty was also 15 years old at the time. The other person in this theater who also took part in that trek to freedom was Margot Fragante, my father’s executive secretary, then Geny’s and now mine. Don’t ask me how old she is, I don’t know. All I know, she is ageless, priceless, part of our family treasure and heritage.”
Fragante has enjoyed the rare privilege of having served several generations of Lopezes, including as executive secretary of Eugenio Lopez Sr., then president of MSC in 1967. In 1974, she became executive secretary of OML, then president of Benpres Corporation which was later on renamed as Lopez Inc. Then, in 1986, she served as executive secretary of Geny, then president of Lopez Inc.
In his remarks at the 2016 LAA ceremonies, Lopez Holdings chairman Amb. Manuel M. Lopez quipped that Margot “was indispensable. Because of her experience working in Washington, every time my Dad had a special occasion, a sit-down dinner perhaps or anything that really called for extra special attention, it was Margot who helped. She is my mom’s alter ego. Dapat ang pangalan niya Lopez na rin. Maybe Margot Lopez is the more appropriate name.”
During the critical reconstruction period after World War II, Fragante served as executive secretary to Amb. Bartolome Umayam for cultural affairs and Col. Jaime Velasquez, military attaché. She also worked as claims reviewer at the US Veterans Administration in the Philippines and served in various official functions. Fragante took up architecture at the University of Santo Tomas and the Philippine School of Design.