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MANILA, Philippines – Kapamilya lawyer-executive Augusto “Jake” Almeda Lopez was a freedom fighter. He was detained twice during the Marcos dictatorship and helped former Senator Serge Osmeña and ABS-CBN chief Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. escape from detention in Fort Bonifacio in 1977. He died on February 3, Saturday, and was laid to rest today, February 8.
Although his surname is Lopez, “Atty. Jake,” whose parents were from Quezon province, was not related by blood to the Lopez family, owners of the media conglomerate. Despite this, he remained a Kapamilya till the very end. At 91, still displaying an active mind, he testified via Zoom on June 17, 2020 during the House franchise committee hearings in defense of ABS-CBN’s application for a new franchise, which the lower chamber eventually rejected.
“Can you give me another two minutes? You know we are fighting for our lives,” Almeda Lopez said. “We deserve the renewal of our franchise, and that if you don’t renew our franchise, you’re going to deprive the public of so much entertainment, news, and more or less the building of culture. So, I plead to the members of Congress to give ABS-CBN a chance to show its worth and contribution to the country.”
Recalling that incident, Ging Reyes, former head of ABS-CBN Integrated News, said: “He was much older and no longer active in the company, but that didn’t stop him from giving support to a news team that was facing an existential threat. He was a true warrior to the end.”
Almeda Lopez was just being true to form, as he was already a fighter when he was a teenager.
“In 1944, during the war, at 16, he dropped out of school to become a guerrilla in Quezon. He and the men in his unit lived in and out of the jungle, gathering information they could pass on to the Americans. He contracted malaria,” wrote lifestyle journalist Thelma Sioson San Juan, a former ABS-CBN Publishing executive, in June 2020 on the occasion of the lawyer’s 92nd birthday.
Stella Lopez-Lavy said her father’s experience during the war had a deep impact on him.
“He had malaria in the jungle at the age of 15 when he was a guerilla and he had to keep moving at night. Since that experience, he said he had always had the attitude of gratitude for everything, optimistic even in the most uncertain times,” Lopez-Lavy said during the funeral Mass on Thursday.
“I learned from him to be courageous, to have faith, to be resilient, and to be steadfast, and most of all, to stand up for what you believe to be right,” she added.
The Philippine Army honored the war veteran via a 21-gun salute before his interment.
San Juan said Almeda Lopez also campaigned for his uncle Claro M. Recto when the nationalist ran for president in 1957 with Lorenzo Tañada. “Later he would join Tañada in the latter’s fight against the granting of parity rights to the United States, and much later in the opposition to martial law,” she wrote.
That fighting spirit would continue to be seen when he entered the broadcast industry back in 1961 after ABS-CBN chief “Kapitan Geny” convinced him to leave his law practice and join him in building the then-fledgling network.
Almeda Lopez, a graduate of the UP College of Law, was among the first law graduates after World War 2. He placed fourth in the 1952 Bar exams, and joined the Alfonso Ponce Enrile law. “He was paid P3 a day and shared the office with [now presidential adviser] Juan Ponce Enrile, the son of Alfonso. The next year, he put up his law firm and married Aida Antonio,” wrote San Juan.
The broadcast business was then a sunrise industry, and Lopez convinced his school mate in Ateneo de Manila University to help him. “Atty. Jake,” given his skills in people management, was initially tasked to handle personnel and labor.
Recounted Lopez in the book, Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the Making of ABS-CBN, written by the late Raul Rodrigo: “Jake’s got a good heart, a lot of malasakit (compassion) and so people trust him. He is par excellence when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I learned to lean on him, to trust him completely. I 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 efficiency and profit-oriented. Jake would balance me beautifully. He would come to me and convince me in his own quiet way that the employees deserved this, or merited this and he always got his way. 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.
“Jake taught me his values. He taught me loyalty, he taught me the importance of malasakit. He taught me the importance of fairness. He taught me the importance of being objective. I learned a lot from him. I’m proud to be his friend.”
From there, Almeda Lopez rose to become ABS-CBN general manager in 1966, and ABS-CBN would overtake the Elizaldes’ Manila Broacasting Corporation (MBC) as the leader in the broadcast industry.
“Atty. Jake Almeda Lopez, along with Kapitan Geny Lopez, was the force, the spirit behind ABS-CBN. Together they built the network into the biggest media company in the country,” said Reyes.
She told Rappler that Almeda Lopez also “immersed himself” in news gathering and was a “big supporter of news and public affairs.” She recalled he would occasionally go to the newsroom to catch up on developments about the company.
Former TV Patrol anchor Korina Sanchez said in an Instagram post: “…Atty. Jake would hitch rides with me, as a cub reporter in the early 90s, in our crewcab, just so he gets to be part of a news coverage. It was during the rebirth of freedom of speech after the revolution. ABS-CBN News was alive again. He had to be there.”
Although Geny Lopez’s uncle, Fernando, had teamed up with then-president Ferdinand E. Marcos in the 1969 elections and won, the relationship between the two families would get strained, and Marcos would accuse Geny of plotting to kill him, and of assembling a team to take over Malacañang.
After Marcos declared Martial Law, Geny and former Senator “Serge” Osmeña were among the thousands incarcerated.
Almeda Lopez, however, continued to fight. “He defied the dictator’s iron will by leading protest actions after Geny was imprisoned. Eventually, Almeda Lopez was imprisoned himself…,” reads an article about him in the ABS-CBN newsletter, Lopez Link, published in December 2023.
On December 10, 1973, over a year after the declaration of Martial Law, Atty. Jake and two other friends – Lorenzo “Tits” Tañada Jr. and George Gaddi – were arrested for subversion. According to the book, Kapitan, it was Philippine Constabulary Major Rolando Abadilla (later Colonel), feared for torturing detainees, who interrogated Jake, but the latter didn’t break and Abadilla “lost his temper.”
“You want to be tough, okay. Go ahead. But you know, you had better talk, because I’ll stake my life, my career, and profession that you will talk. So before you get hurt, you’d better talk,” the book Kapitan quoted Abadilla as having said.
Fortunately for Jake, military officers who were senior to Abadilla intervened and got him into “safer quarters,” and he was kept in a military detention facility for a year before they were transferred to Camp Crame.
How Jake got released and involved in the daring escape of Lopez and Osmeña is a story worth retelling. In November 1974, the two began a hunger strike which sought to highlight the plight of political detainees during martial law.
“I am going on hunger strike to focus attention on the plight and suffering of thousands of detainees like me, who have languished in jail for months and years without even being informed of the charges against them. This is the only way to obtain justice for all of us. I am innocent, but under the circumstances, I cannot expect a fair trial either in military or in civilian courts. I will fast until I am released. If my pleas for justice are not heeded, I am ready to die,” Lopez said.
The hunger strike reportedly caught Marcos “off guard,” as it was the first he had to deal with, reads the book Kapitan.
Then-defense minister Enrile called the wives of Geny and Serge – Chita Lopez and Marlita Osmeña – to a meeting in the Palace on November 26, 1974, where Enrile promised the two that the demands of their husbands “would be met.”
Less than a month after the meeting with Enrile, Marcos announced on television that 622 political detainees would be released “as an act of clemency.” Almeda Lopez, Tañada, and Gaddi, who were already in Camp Crame by then, were among those released on December 12, 1974, the day after Marcos’ announcement. A total of 454 other detainees were freed a week later.
But Lopez and Osmeña were not released, as Marcos insisted they were both guilty of joining the supposed plots to kill the president.
After three years in detention, Lopez and Osmeña planned what would be their first attempt at escaping. By 1976, the two were allowed occasional overnight passes to their respective homes. They expected they would be allowed to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of Geny and wife Chita on September 15, 1976 in Don Eugenio Lopez Sr.’s house in Parañaque.
Almeda Lopez got a worker to drill a hole from a closet in Don Eugenio’s room to the adjacent lot. A car would be waiting there to take them to the airport where they would board a chartered flight to the US. But around a month before the planned escape, the home visits were canceled on orders of General Fabian Ver, and never resumed.
But Almeda Lopez promised Geny he would get him out of prison, telling him, “I swear to you, Geny, I’ll get you out of here.”
“Geny’s hunger strike was the reason I was released in December 1974. So I felt I was just paying him back for the favor,” Almeda Lopez said in the book Kapitan.
The second plan thus had to be an escape from the military camp Fort Bonifacio. After identifying who would participate in the escape, which included Geny’s children, “Gabby” and “Raffy,” they drew up a plan that was executed in 1977.
“The security of Bonifacio was not weak, but the military became very complacent. After all, Geny and Serge had been in detention for five years. So the military was not expecting anything; their security had become very routine,” recounted Almeda Lopez in the book.
Lopez and Osmeña got help from fellow prisoner George Cabardo, secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The leftist was then the only person to have ever escaped from the military camp.
Cabardo told them how to remove the nails from the iron frame bars of their bathrooms, which the two succeeded in doing using tools – chisels, wire cutters, knife – smuggled in by their relatives during visits.
Almeda Lopez was in charge of what the two would do after escaping from Fort Bonifacio. The plan was for “Raffy” and “Gabby” to drive a car with a large trunk to the outskirts of the military camp and leave a walkie-talkie that the would-be escapees could use to alert the Lopez children.
They would then be hidden in the trunk and meet Almeda Lopez at the Philippine Village Hotel and then drive to Lingayen, Pangasinan where a Cessna would wait for them for a flight to Hong Kong before boarding a plane to Los Angeles, USA. Lopez relative Steve Psinakis got an Israeli fighter pilot to fly Geny, Serge, Jake, Raffy, and Gabby to Hong Kong using a six-seater, twin engine Cessna 320. Geny, Serge, and Jake would then apply for political asylum in the US.
On September 30, 1977, Geny and Serge escaped and were granted asylum in the US.
Almeda Lopez could have stayed in the US until the Marcos dictatorship fell, but he chose to return to the Philippines and join the oppostion.
In the early 80s, San Juan wrote that Jake was “caught trying to enter the country through the Sulu Sea…He and other freedom fighters stealthily took a boat from Sabah.”
“He was caught, his companion tortured, and he was in detention for 15 months, some of it in isolation. He was already in his 50s then. He was acquitted of rebellion charges in 1985,” she said.
The daring escape of Lopez and Osmeña was made into a film, Eskapo, directed by Chito Roño with the script written by Jose F. Lacaba and Roy Iglesias.
It stars Christopher de Leon as Geny Lopez Jr., Richard Gomez as Serge Osmeña, Dina Bonevie as Chita Lopez, and Ricky Davao as Atty. Jake Almeda Lopez.
Wrote San Juan: “…Atty. Jake’s life has been – a self-made adventure marked by choices of courage that put him right smack in the middle of the country’s recent history. At every turn, he didn’t have to get involved, but he did.” – Rappler.com
- “At 91, Jake Almeda Lopez is still fighting for ABS-CBN, the media company he helped shape,” ANCX, June 22, 2020 (which republished excerpts from the book Kapitan, by Raul Rodrigo, published in 2006.
- “The incredible story of how Geny Lopez and Serge Osmeña escaped from prison in 1977,” Raul Rodrigo, ANCX, June 23, 2020.
- “Jake Almeda Lopez: Fighter who shuns the spotlight,” by Thelma Sioson San Juan, Inquirer Lifestyle, June 28, 2020.
- “The old-fashioned loyalty of Jake Almeda Lopez.” Lopez Link, December 2023.