MANILA,Philippines—Fighting among senators erupted anew Tuesday night when emotions ran high after Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. left the session hall and ignored requests from some of his colleagues to answer questions on the C-5 road controversy.
Villar left the session hall soon after he delivered a very long privilege speech to deny allegations against him in Committee Report No. 780.
The report seeks to censure him for unethical conduct in connection with the road extension project in the cities of Parañaque and Las Piñas that traversed properties owned by his real estate firms.
A fight broke out between Sen. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano after the former “challenged” Villar to show that he was “not a coward” by answering their queries.
Irritated as well of Villar’s sudden exit from the Senate, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who prepared the report as chair of the Senate committee of the whole, lamented that the senator had not faced his accusers.
“I’m sorry for him that he came here like a boxer and fighter but he left with alacrity and with no explanation,” Enrile said.
Enrile, nevertheless, was thankful that Villar showed up to “explain his side to the people” and said it was up to them to decide whether he or the committee report was telling the truth.
But Enrile said he was standing by his report which he said was backed by 990 documents “that could not lie” compared with Villar’s “hallow” statements “to justify one’s misconduct.”
The report found that Villar had failed to declare a conflict of interest in the C-5 project. He was paid for right of way by the government and the value of his real estate increased because of the project.
“I did nothing wrong. There is no anomaly in the C-5 project, and I did not benefit from the C-5 project. All these allegations are just politicking,” Villar said in his privilege speech.
Villar repeated this pronouncement several times to rebut allegations that his real state empire had benefited from the C-5 controversy.
Maintaining his innocence, Villar, standard-bearer of the Nacionalista Party, made it clear at the beginning of his speech that he was no “coward” as he answered point-by-point the charges hurled against him.
“I stand before the Senate and the people of the Philippines in defense of my name, my honor and dignity against my accusers in the so-called C-5 controversy,” he said.
He pointed out that people from Tondo, Manila, where he came from, were never known to be cowards.
“In the beginning, the charge (against me) was double insertion. When they (Senate majority) found out that it’s not true since the funds were intended for two projects, the charge became realignment. When we show that there are two roads involved (in the C-5 project)—a toll road and one surface road—the charge became overpricing,” Villar said.
“When we also proved that there was no overpricing, the next allegation was conflict of interest. I’ve already belied this and, in truth, the Department of Justice has a ruling that there is no conflict of interest,” he added.
Villar said that although the explanations were “simple and yet it’s as if no one was listening. They themselves are convinced of their lies.”
The Senate committee of the whole had come up with a “lutong macau” (rigged) report, he said.
Villar, a self-styled billionaire, admitted that it was “painful” for him and his family to be at the receiving end of the most vicious attacks from his political foes for the last two years in what he deemed as a demolition drive to “weaken” his presidential candidacy.
“I’ve already received all the scathing remarks that a man can receive in his lifetime. They called me names … a robber, coward, opportunists, weak and other names,” Villar said, but he was quick to declare that this strategy would never convince him to back out from the presidential race.
Right after his privilege speech, he left the session hall.
The Senate had to suspend session twice when Madrigal and Cayetano ended up squabbling.
Cayetano did not like Madrigal’s calling Villar a coward and said statements like that were tiring.
Cayetano reminded fellow senators: “Please, when you stand up, remember people voted for us. That’s why we’re honorable lawmakers.”
Madrigal countered by insisting that the best forum for Villar to answer the allegations against him was on the floor.
“The floor is a place where honest, truthful courageous people should speak,” she said.
Boy who cried wolf
Madrigal said Villar’s speech was long but twisted the evidence. “The boy who cried wolf is not easily believed,” she said.
Enrile stood up again to say that he was “sorry” that Villar made assertions in the chamber but “shied away from being tested by questions regarding his assertions.”
“It’s easy to make assertions but hard to stand rigorous questioning of peers who will ask questions whether indeed you’re telling the truth.”
“I have presented my report and I’m ready and willing to be crucified, interpellated,” the Senate president said, adding that he had prepared a “faithful report based on evidence.”
“I’m sorry I cannot believe the protestations of my distinguished colleague, Senator Villar,” Enrile said.
He added that he would stand by his report, challenging colleagues to question him on it.
Villar did not leave until after he vowed to fulfill his “dream” of lifting millions of Filipinos from the clutches of poverty.
“I’ve already achieved many of my dreams in life. My last wish is to lift many of our countrymen from poverty. They have been waiting for someone who can help them,” Villar said.
“I seek the presidency now because I have a dream for our people—a dream of rescuing them from poverty and giving them a better future such as the future I have realized for myself and my family.”
Having risen from poverty himself by first selling shrimp, Villar claimed that he knew how to do it in six years as the country’s leader.
He said he became rich even before he entered politics, and that he had accumulated enough wealth to ensure a bright future for his family.
“We have more than enough. If I still want to become richer, I should have stayed in business,” he said.
“I do not want the majority of the Filipino people to always keep hoping and waiting for the next presidential candidate to save them. I seek the presidency as the culmination—not the beginning—of my life in public service.”
He said this was his “mission” in life.
Villar said his detractors had “crab mentality.” While he was with his mother selling fish in Tondo’s markets, he saw the behavior of crabs—“pulling down their own kind.”
In his desire to further serve the people, he said he was being subjected to the same ordeal by his “political foes” he likened to “crabs.”
Without necessarily submitting himself to the ethics proceeding conducted by the Senate committee of the whole, Villar left no issues in the committee report unaddressed.
Source of wealth
Villar said he could explain the source of his wealth unlike those who were born to wealth and privilege, an allusion to Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III and his running mate Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, both scions of landed political clans.
“I am the principal shareholder in a public company that I founded from a small gravel-and-sand enterprise 30 years ago with an old beaten-up truck as its main asset. I have been able to grow it into a trustworthy, viable, and solid real estate company. It is a matter of public record,” Villar said.
“In business circles, I have been known as the brown taipan,” he said.