The newly-engaged Ernie Lopez, ABS-CBN’s Creative Program’s Inc. president, shared a short reflection with his Facebook followers Thursday morning. It is especially addressed to those who have been having difficulty in this time of enforced community quarantine.
The pandemic has been hard on everyone, his message began, and no one is spared from feelings of unease and anxiety. It’s been more than a month, after all, since the ECQ had been implemented, and two more weeks have been recently added to the original April 30 lifting of the lockdown.
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Not surprisingly, Ernie looked to his father Eugenio “Geny” Lopez for inspiration. The sixth child of the late founder of ABS-CBN, Ernie harked back to the year 1972, when his father was sent to jail by the Marcoses. Geny was accused of conspiring to assassinate then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos during the early years of Martial Law. Geny spent years in incarceration at the Maximum Security Unit of Fort Bonifacio.
Ernie saw how the situation many Filipinos find themselves in these days is something similar to what his father went through — many people all over the world today feel trapped and helpless, faced with an unpredictable, lethal enemy.
His father’s Fort Boni quarters at the time, Ernie described in the video, was as tiny as a comfort room. “Walang Internet noon,” Ernie says. “Walang cellphone, walang landline. Meron lang siyang TV, ’tsaka ewan nga kung may radyo siya, di ko na matandaan.” The room had a small toilet with a shower in it, a small bed, and a narrow space beside the bed, where one could barely walk a few steps.
Geny was prohibited from going outside, except for a few occasions when he needed to get a little bit of sun. Over time, he was granted a place that had a garden, where he would do his exercises.
This was his life for five long years.
Five transformative years they were, it turned out. Ernie recalled his mother, Conchita La’O Taylor (formerly Lopez), telling him that five years was just the right amount of time for his father to learn his lessons. “Kung mas maikli ’yan sa five years, baka hindi nagbago nang tuluyan ’yong tatay ko,” Ernie said. “Pero kung lumagpas naman sa five years, baka masyado siyang na-broken. So sabi ng mommy ko, ‘Sakto talaga ’yon. It was the exact amount of time na kailangan [niya].’”
Before his incarceration, Ernie said, ABS-CBN had a different meaning for his father and his colleagues: “Alak, Babae, Sugal-Cabaret, Bar, Night Club. Gano’n ang buhay niya dati. Parating may party, parating may politicians, kung sino-sino.” And Geny, added Ernie, never paid any attention to a spiritual life.
“’Yong nabilanggo [tatay ko], maraming nabago sa kaniya. Nagkaroon siya ng relationship with God,” said Ernie. And slowly, many things about the ABSCBN’s Kapitan changed. From dapper suits, he would be okay just wearing shorts, a kamiseta, and slippers. The parties also came to a halt. And he lost friends—a lot of friends.
From this experience, Geny learned an important lesson, which he once shared with Ernie: There are three things in life that no one can take away from you: God, your family, and your true friends.
“Nagkaroon siya ng relationship with God, hindi puwede itong kunin sa kanya,” Ernie elucidated. “Number two, family. Pagdaan sa panahon ng taghirap talaga, kagipitan, family is the only one talaga you can rely on. Pangatlo, your true friends. Madami siyang kaibigan dati na nandoon kasi mayaman siya, marami siyang negosyo, marami siyang party—daming kaibigan. Pero no’ng kinulong siya ni Marcos, biglang nawala lahat ng kaibigan.
“At hindi namin sila masisisi kasi kung kaibigan ka namin, baka mapahamak ka, makulong ka rin. So umiwas na sila. Di mo masisisi kasi may mga pamilya rin ’tong mga ’to. Okay lang, we understand.
“Pero ’yong mga taong nanatiling kaibigan namin kahit sa mga panahon na ’to, doon namin nakita. Eto ang tunay na kaibigan. Sinusugal talaga ang buhay nila para lang suportahan kami.”
Unlike Geny’s time in jail, it may not take five years before this pandemic is over. But like that life-altering experience, this moment, carrying a heavy load of mixed emotions—fear, apprehension, anger, doubt—and to many, hunger, will test people’s mettle.