Gabby Lopez: Urban planner, educator, man for others

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In Photo: Gabby Lopez as a young professional in his mid-20s with other personalities who also became famous achievers in their careers, like Gerry Barican, Patricia Paez, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ramon Faustmann, Freddie Salanga, Jose Dalisay, Butch Fabul, Diego Quesada and Adlai Amor, among others.

IT was the First Quarter Storm, a time of many uncertainties. Student activism was raging. After completing his AB Humanities in Ateneo de Manila, Gabby Lopez boycotted his graduation with 20 other students. Then, he was accepted at the University of the Philippines Institute of Planning (now the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning) as its first scholar and belonged to the third batch of graduate students.

Gabby Lopez (right) with former US ambassador John Maisto (center) and Hank Hendrickson, former
Gabby Lopez (right) with former US ambassador John Maisto (center) and Hank Hendrickson, former

Martial law soon came after, and the early period of that dark past in our history challenged his adventurous spirit. As young professionals then were being asked to serve the public sector, he took the plunge and got his first job—away from Manila.

He worked as regional-urban planner in Davao City for the Mindanao Regional Development Study Project of the United Nations Development Programme and the Philippine government consortium (this included the Mindanao Development Authority, Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications and the University of the Philippines Institute of Planning).

When he got back to Manila, he would get enticed to work at National Economic and Development Authority as regional economist in the newly activated regional development staff. Here, he was tasked to help Secretary Gerry Sicat and his senior team to organize and activate the Regional Development Offices, specifically in Bicol, Southern Mindanao, Northern Mindanao and Western Mindanao, Central Luzon, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas and Western Visayas.

He also helped recruit graduates from UP, Ateneo, La Salle and leading provincial schools.

He would then get invited to join the new Population Center Foundation of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, where he worked with prominent population experts in promoting family planning and health development in rural areas.

“I was happy to work with the likes of Dr. Clipper Lorenzo, Dr. Dodong Solon of the Nutrition Center of the Philippines, Mr. Mon Binamira of Green Revolution, Sen. Helen Benitez for the environment, and Secretary Fanny Aldaba-Lim for social welfare,” he remembers.

In his sorties to Bicol, he was fortunate to deal with Secretary Peter Prado, who was then managing the Bicol River Basin Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Lopez then ventured to study as a working student at the UP College of Public Administration on Padre Faura to pursue his doctoral studies, mentored by great minds, notably Dr. Raul de Guzman, Dr. Ledy Cariño, Dr. Caring Alfonso, Dr. Gabby Iglesias, Prof. Liling Briones, Prof. Romy Ocampo, Prof. Commissioner Albina Dans and Dr. Nes Pilar. “It was a period of martial law that I found productive and very engaging,” he says.

He missed a scholarship program—“Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies” and a UNDP travel grant to Tennessee Valley Authority when he moved to the Cultural Center of the Philippines to head the Management Information Team of the First Lady, leading a young staff of professionals to undertake special studies for the projects of Imelda Marcos as governor of Metro Manila.

“The CCP [Cultural Center of the Philippines] general manager, Chinese-American IT expert Joan Fang, involved us in the organization of the World Festival of the Arts to happen during the 1976 Miss Universe contest in Manila. We helped market the various shows at the CCP featuring the Bolshoi and Australian Ballet, individual concert performances of Monserrat Caballe, Van Cliburn and other international artists. We helped Johannesburg-based Canadian painter Clarence Wilson organize an exhibit of world master paintings. “We were very happy to witness all these events as young professionals. Those were my exciting mid-20s years,” he reminisces.

Today Lopez likes teaching people to make them self-sustaining, responsible and involved citizens of the community. He is often ready to teach, even with little or no compensation at all.

By being an educator and an environmental planner, he has almost circumnavigated the world doing his calling. He always gave something in return, sharing his knowledge and experience back home, and to countries that hired him as a consultant.

Lopez does not regret being a former overseas Filipino worker. He, in fact, evolved into an author of a number of scholarly readings in urban planning and national security. Most recently, teachers and students of UP School of Urban and Regional Planning recognized his dissertation (“Integrating National Security Into Philippine Regional Development Planning”), as well as four of his other publications. One student described them as “important part of our national development.”

In 1983 Lopez left the Philippines and lived in Washington, D.C., for six years. He was hired as a senior management advisor for Coverdale Organization, a company started by the late Ralph Coverdale, an ex-Jesuit novice in Ateneo who served in the Royal Army and took organizational behavior studies in Oxford University.

He was developed to become a management consultant-trainer specializing in team building, leadership development and conflict resolution. The job brought him to the United Kingdom, Aruba and selected Usaid projects in Nigeria and Ecuador.

With a working visa, he got to serve in projects with the International Monetary Fund, US Peace Corps, the World Bank and the USAID, as well as with some US corporate clients, notably Ryland Homes, Glen Gery Brick and the Aruba Hotel Association.

In May 1986 he was assigned to do management and leadership-training programs through USAID Enterprise Program (worldwide) in Lagos, Nigeria. In October of the same year, he was assigned to do management programs for the Family Planning National Groups of Brazil, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. During the late President Cory Aquino’s visit to Washington, D.C., he and his team were immediately engaged to do the same program.

There was no stopping after that. He flew in and out of London several times to work with his British colleagues, serving various Coverdale programs, which took a toll on his health.

He was off to Oranjestad, Aruba, in 1989 three times to facilitate the strategic review and planning workshops of the Aruba government and the Aruba Hotel Association—to transition from a predominantly oil-refining center (the largest in the Western Hemishpere, being only 8 nautical miles from oil-rich Venezuela) to a new tourist destination. Here, he befriended the prime minister and his Cabinet while in Aruba and was even offered residency.

He describes himself as “buhay na buhay sa pagtuturo” (teaches animatedly), simple, calm, compassionate, cheerful, someone who loves God, classical music and his country.

The words in Galatians 6:9 (“Let us not tire of doing good, for at the proper time (tamang panahon) we will harvest if we do not give up.”) and Saint Ignatius of Loyola inspire him: (“In everything love and serve the Lord, for His greater glory”).

Lopez’s profession also took him to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, India, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland.

As a senior adviser to former First Lady Loi Ejercito, Lopez was also included in official trips to Malaysia, Brunei and South Korea; Apec meetings in New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Washington, D.C., and New York; and during the beatification of Pedro Calungsod at the Vatican.

Thoughts on the Filipino diaspora: “Sadly, it is a reality most Filipino families face, because economic opportunities are limited in our country,” Lopez says.

However, it is also good, according to him. “It has produced the global Pinoy with his/her local characteristics. Now, we have glocal Pinoys, who are globally responsive and updated, and still maintain their Filipinoness wherever they are,” he adds.

He would like to see the Philippines one day as a First World nation, globally respected and responsive, with all citizens enjoying good quality and comfortable modern life, living in peace and prosperity, preserving our culture of goodness and greatness.

When he came home from his stints abroad, Lopez is most proud of the ones that he has done unselfishly, all of them too many to mention.

“Am happy to have introduced and propagated the concept of servant leadership in the early-1990s wherever I taught, but most especially in National Defense College of the Philippines,” he says.

He coinitiated the propagation of the Development and Security Paradigm in the national security sector, particularly at AFP Command and General Staff College via Development Academy of the Philippines, as well as the Department of Health’s Doctors to the Barrios program.

Together with Stop Hunger Now and Poor Foundation teams, he partnered with corporations to distribute relief goods to disaster-stricken communities and medical missions to poor children in public hospitals in Quezon City and Manila annually.

“I was involved in catechetical teaching, as well as visiting poor communities. I was also politically challenged by the oppressive system, so I became active in Ateneo History Club and campus activism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I became a disciple of the late Ed Jopson,” he narrates.

He taught in Ateneo de Davao, Baltimore International Culinary Arts College, National Defense College of the Philippines, Philippine Air Force College, Philippine Army College, National Police College, AFP Command and General Staff College, Development Academy of the Philippines Graduate School of Management, Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Schools, John Gokongwei School of Management, School of Humanities and Graduate School of Government.

Former dean of Graduate School of Management at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, senior fellow/graduate faculty at Development Academy of the Philippines and National Defense College of the Philippines, he is currently a visiting lecturer at Enderun Colleges.