Conchita and son: "She raised us all—and our publicized past would say we weren’t easy."
Culture Spotlight

The woman who raised me: Ernie Lopez on his mother Conchita

A woman full of faith and always on the move is how the former pastor describes his mother, a “virtuoso of forgiveness” that taught all of her children to stand on their feet. But what defines the 89-year-old the most now is her guiding principle of living life with an open hand.
Ernie Lopez, as told to Bam Abellon | May 12 2019

For Mother’s Day this year, we’ve asked men to pen a piece about the person who helped shape who they are today. While the truth that these exceptional individuals owe a lot from the woman who raised them might not be entirely earth-shattering, it definitely always bears repeating.

 

When people say “age doesn’t matter,” they probably had the privilege and wonderment of meeting someone like my agile mother. When she was in her 60s, I took her rock climbing, and she did it with grace. Then I took her wakeboarding in her 70s, and she put to shame those who were half her age when she got up on her board on her first try. Just this May, we celebrated her 89th birthday.

 

More amazing mothers:

 

I was raised by a mother who has trophies in golf, tennis, pelota, and waterskiing. She was a member of the Philippine Waterskiing team, and was such a patron of the sport that world champions would come to our house, spend time with us, and coach us. My brothers and sisters were greatly influenced by her love for water. We were at the beach most weekends.

"If there is a gene that makes one love sports, then I probably would’ve inherited it from her."

Growing up, I focused a lot of my time on sports. I basically tried every sport that got my attention: badminton, squash, table tennis, pelota, running, triathlon, scuba diving, sky diving, skiing. Lately, I started training for obstacle course running (OCR). If there is a gene that makes one love sports, then I probably would’ve inherited it from her. And if there is a gene that makes one more cerebral than emotional, well, that’s a different story.

A consequence of her love for sports didn’t just manifest in her astounding physicality, but in the way her mind—and her heart—move in seamless coordination. Like most great sportsmen with unparalleled focus, undaunted by myriad pressure, my mom never let her emotions get the best of her. The cerebral type, she approached life like a game; it came with losses and triumphs. She rationalizes her feelings, finds the logic first—maybe that’s why I don’t think I’ve ever heard her shout in my life. When she and my late father separated over his infidelity, she expressed how hurt she was, how painful it was, but she never really expressed hatred—not once.

 

The freedom she gave

My mom has always allowed us to fall, so we would learn how to get up. And by fall, I mean, sometimes literally fall to the ground.

When I was around nine years old, I had a 50cc motorbike, or a small motorcycle. One day, while I was taking the bike for a ride, I was fixing my bag and didn’t realize there were huge rocks in front of me. My wheels went over the rocks, and I was thrown off my bike. The next thing I knew, my face was on the ground. I was bleeding all over my body. When my mother found out, she got mad, of course, but she only feebly vented, “You have to take care of yourself.” I was grounded so I would learn to be more careful—and I did.

Ernie with siblings: "When there’s a problem, we’ve been trained to fix it, or die trying."

She was not the kind of mother who would hover over us and take care of every single thing. She intentionally wanted us to be tough. My mother’s ways hindered my six siblings and I from becoming whiners. When there’s a problem, we’ve been trained to fix it, or die trying. Once, when I was already working, I called her up because of a stomachache. She told me to get in my car and drive myself to the hospital so I could get myself checked.

In my life, there were only two instances when my mother forced me to do something. The first one was tennis. She loved tennis so much she put a tennis court in our house in Alabang. I was seven years old when she first enrolled me in a tennis camp.

With his dad and mom.

The second instance happened during one of the darkest moments of my life. During the Martial Law era, my father was sent to jail as a political prisoner. I was in grade school at the time. Every Friday, the Manzano family would take our family in at their house in Tali Beach, Batangas. That was how my mom would cope with our family’s plight. We would stay at the beach house until Saturday night, then leave early morning on Sunday, so we could drive to Fort Bonifacio (now Bonifacio Global City) to visit our dad in prison. When I was around 13 years old, my father was exiled to the United States, where most of my family remained, until the 1986 People Power Revolution.

I was 17 when I had a nervous breakdown. The medication made it exhaustingly difficult for me to get out of bed. As part of my recovery process, I had to attend classes at a community college near our house. My mom would force me to get up. I’d tell her, “I don’t feel like it.” I was too lazy and tired to do anything. “No, you have to go,” she would tell me repeatedly. She would force me to do it. On hindsight, I needed her to do it. So I got out of bed, I kept going, and, eventually, I was healed.

 

Faith is personal

Religion, too, was practiced at one’s free will. It was never forced on any of us. My mother was a staunch and devout Catholic, but by the time any of us turned 13, she wouldn’t require us to go to mass. Some of us stopped going, some of us continued to go. I continued to go to mass. My mother and I believe in God in the same dutiful way, we just have different ways of expressing our beliefs. Until nine years ago, I was a living, breathing prodigal son. My life fell apart then, including my marriage.

"I allow my children to be free because my mother allowed me to be free."

I remember walking into the Victory church at the BGC, hearing the worship, and crying my eyes out. I went back to Him after that, and I now preach at the Kids Church for Victory. The last nine years have been the best years of my life. I am certain I was able to mend my figurative, self-inflicted wounds because many times in my life my mother allowed me to fall. Those nosedives taught me how to deal with stumbling blocks that I couldn’t see coming. I try to do the same with my kids. I allow my children to be free because my mother allowed me to be free.

Ernie on Conchita: "She wasn’t a doting mother, but I felt her love and thoughtfulness through moments that mattered."

 

My constant

My mother regaled us with her other passions. When she wasn’t busy raising us, my mom would play the piano and would be deeply involved with the arts. She can read, write, and speak French. One of the most intellectual people I know, my mother loves to read books.

"She is one of the most intellectual people I know."

She wasn’t a doting mother, but I felt her love and thoughtfulness through moments that mattered. She wouldn’t drive us to school—heck, she would sometimes forget to pick up one of us from school—but because she was a brilliant mind, we could always count on her for answers, especially for school assignments. When I was in college, she would help me type my term papers with a typewriter. She was always there when I needed her to be.

While most mothers would cook baon for their kids, my mother has a hard time boiling water.

And I’m fine with that. I’m fine with a mom who doesn’t cook. How many moms can rock-climb, waterski, wakeboard, take up martial arts, and Rollerblade, anyway?  

 

The cool grandma

All our kids love my mother. Who wouldn’t love a cool grandma? At 89 years old, she still does Pilates, she swims, and she lifts weights

She’s a tough one, and it’s not even her physical strength that puts us in awe. She raised us all—and our publicized past would say we weren’t easy. In the early ‘90s, my parents’ marriage fell apart. I couldn’t cope with the pain, and I was angry all the time. My mother—the one who was betrayed—helped me to forgive. Years later, she helped me cope with the failure of my marriage.

Conchita with the Lopez kids and grandkids.

Of all of my mother’s skills, she was a virtuoso on forgiveness. She told me once, 20 years after my father succumbed to cancer, that she had finally loved my father again the way she used to when they were still married. I wish to emulate her kind of patience, respect, and compassion. She’s proof that there is strength—a higher one, I think—in waiting for time to take its course.

My mother lives in the United States now, and has been happily re-married for 13 years, to a man who is one of the least materialistic person I’ve ever met. He would wear the same old shoes, until my mom buys him a new pair. He cooks for her. He writes her notes. In their house in San Francisco, California, I would come across short, written messages from him for my mom: “Love you” or “I’m so glad you’re home again.” He keeps my mother very happy. They’re a good balance.

"She has made it through all of us. I think she survived mainly because of her faith and her endurance."

I see my mother in my kids now. When I could, I try to tell them stories about her so they can learn from them. My kids are musically gifted. They definitely got that from my mother, as my singing “abilities” should only be heard by the walls of our bathroom.

As much as adrenalin is oxygen for her, my mother also believes in mediation, which may be one of the reasons why she’s so centered, and why she’s a good listener. I listen to her more as I grow older. I can see how her faith in God has been rewarded because she’s okay. She has made it through all of us. In her lifetime she had four children who ended up in a drug rehabilitation facility. We’ve wrecked cars—my brother wrecked his when he was 14 years old. Her husband went to jail. I may be obedient, but I had a nervous breakdown. I’m surprised she didn’t have a breakdown. I think she survived mainly because of her faith and her endurance—mind and body—developed by years of athleticism and adventure.  

She hates giving advice, by the way, saying she might worsen things if she gave the wrong one. She said she lives her life with an open hand. “If I lived my life with an open hand, it means God can take anything I have at any time,” she told me. “I’m not holding on to anything. I live my life with more gratitude because I’m just thankful for the time I’ve had, with whatever I have. Whatever happens to me, whatever You take, whatever You give to me, my hands are always open to You.”

 

Ernesto “Ernie” Miguel L. Lopez is the sixth child of Conchita “Chita” La’O Taylor (formerly Lopez) and the late Eugenio “Geny” Moreno Lopez, Jr., the former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of ABS-CBN Corporation. Chita hails from the prominent La’O clan, one of the old Chinese-Filipino families of Manila. Ernie is currently the president of ABS-CBN Publishing Inc. and Creative Programs Inc.