Everything you've wanted to know about RP politics, but were afraid to ask.

Critics say Villar violated public trust–and more

Posted by akosistella on March 15, 2010

By Dan Mariano

Manny Villar claims that the country’s richest families have conspired to prevent him from becoming president.

“Simula pa lang ng kampanya wala nang tigil ang pagbintang nila ng kung anu-ano. [Since the campaign started they have not stopped accusing me of various of things],” Villar said in an interview during one of his jaunts to Mindanao last month.

“Talagang hindi sila sanay na isang mahirap ay pwedeng maging presidente rin. [They really can’t get used to the idea that even a poor man could also become president.],” added Villar whose campaign has taken on the semblance of class warfare.

The truth is two presidents had also claimed to have experienced poverty in their youth. Ramon Magsaysay was said to have been an auto mechanic before he became a politician. Diosdado Macapagal described himself as the “poor boy from Lubao.”

Villar’s claim that he experienced poverty in his youth may—or may not—be true. For most of his life, however, he has been a rich man—one of the wealthiest in the Philippines, in fact.

Some of his detractors say he married money. Others allege that his rise up the social ladder was accomplished through questionable means, to put it mildly. Still others claim both, and more.

The March 12 edition of this column contained accusations—from former HUDCC secretary general Antonio Hidalgo—that Villar made a bundle out of the government’s socialized housing program in the late 1980s and early 1990s through a scheme, which he allegedly masterminded and which nearly caused the country’s financial system to collapse.

That column also cited a privilege speech delivered in 1998 by then-Makati Rep. Joker Arroyo accusing then-Speaker Villar of using public office to win “accommodations” from state banks and government financial institutions for his real estate and banking companies.

Arroyo also demanded that Villar cut his ties with his business interests, which by several accounts the latter never did.

Throughout Villar’s public career, allegations that he used his government positions in order to gain unfair advantage for his businesses have surfaced again and again.

Frank Wenceslao, a Filipino-American anticorruption advocate based in Los Angeles, recounted one such incident:

In 1996, when Villar was already a congressman, one of his companies, Northwind Prime Properties, bought a property from Sta. Lucia Realty and Development Corp. for P120 million then mortgaged it to the Villar-owned Capitol Development Bank under the name of ADR Farms in the amount of P150 million.

The property was used as collateral for a P1.5-billion “emergency” loan from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and eventually sold to RCBC Savings Bank by Capitol Bank and finally bought back by another Villar company, Palmera Homes Inc., for development.

What made the central bank accept Villar’s landholding as collateral valued at over 10 times its acquisition price in a private business transaction whose benefits accrued to Villar’s Capitol Bank and Palmera Homes?

Isn’t the answer to that question obvious?

In the so-called double insertion controversy, Villar allegedly caused major changes in the C-5 Road extension project, or CX5, in order to raise the value of his landholdings on the project’s periphery. As expected, he dismissed those charges as “old hat.”

Villar, however, has yet to persuasively refute the questions raised by his fellow senators and by UP economics professor and columnist Solita Monsod, who is also a former socioeconomic secretary.

The C-5 extension road project (CX5) was unnecessary since there was already an ongoing P2.6-billion project linking C-5 to Coastal Road. In order to accommodate Villar’s redundant project, the government was forced to spend P6.9 billion more.

The CX5 project cut through properties owned by Villar, whose companies were paid road right of way at inflated rates. Moreover, the value of his 52-hectare landholdings traversed by the new road underwent, as Monsod put it, “tremendous increase.”

In yet another case, a Villar company, Crown Communities Iloilo, bought 12.7 hectares in Jibao-an, Pavia, Iloilo, from land reform beneficiaries and converted their first-class irrigated farms into a residential enclave, Savannah Subdivision.

Former Senate President Franklin Drilon, who exposed this case last month at the Kapihan sa Sulo media forum, pointed out that under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law converting first-class irrigated farmland into housing projects is illegal.

True, Villar managed to obtain the Department of Agrarian Reform’s approval for the conversion—but he did so only in 2007, or over seven years after development of Savannah began.

Not content with the 12-hectare Savannah property, Villar also bought the adjoining farmlands and expanded the housing project to cover a total of 250 hectares. The farmers had no choice but to sell their property, said Drilon, because their irrigation supply had been cut off with Villar’s conversion of Savannah, the area’s primary water source.

Villar reportedly paid the farmers P150 per square meter for their land, whose value he eventually managed to raise to P3,500 per sqm. Similar complaints have been raised by a group of Dumagat farmers in Norzagaray, Bulacan.

From a self-styled fishmonger’s son who allegedly grew up destitute in the slums of Tondo, Villar has gone a long way, indeed. As of the end of 2008, he reported a personal net worth of P46 billion. Much of that wealth appears to have been accumulated while he was a lawmaker.

In his 1998 privilege speech scoring Villar’s apparent use of political power to further his private interests, then-Makati congressman Arroyo underscored the fundamental principle that public office is a public trust.

Evidently, Villar was not listening. If he was, he probably thought Arroyo was just joking.

Should Villar win in May, the joke would be on the Filipino people.



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