Villar defends self, denies vote-buying allegations
By Marvin Sy
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Senator Manuel Villar Jr. denied that his camp was engaged in vote buying when it handed out scholarships to 40 children and even when he personally gave P20 bills to a couple of children the other day.
Speaking with reporters in Batangas, Villar explained that what his daughter Camille handed out during last Thursday night’s Rocaktropa concert at the Mall of Asia were the scholarship certificates that he promised the children some time ago during a noontime show.
“These were given out a long time ago at Wowowee when some children lost in a game and Willie said that it was a pity they were going home without scholarships,” Villar said, recalling how the show’s host Willie Revillame coaxed him into giving out scholarships to the losing contestants.
The scholarships for the 40 children amounted to P3 million, which Villar promised to the children during the show.
Villar has been criticized for vote-buying, which was followed up by the handing out of P20 bills to a couple of children last Friday.
During his market tour of Batangas last Friday, Villar was approached by a couple of children who were asking him for money to buy food.
Villar said that he did not want to hand out money because it would not look good but he did because he “really pitied them.”
“I really didn’t want to. I know it’s not allowed, but try telling them that,” he said.
In a separate interview, Villar also said that the children could not vote anyway, so it is not considered vote-buying.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Rene Sarmiento said the other day that Villar’s move during the concert Thursday night could be considered as vote-buying.
The Omnibus Election Code defines vote-buying as “giving, offering or promising money or anything of value” to induce anyone to vote for or against any candidate.
Vote-buying is considered an election offense, which carries the penalty of one to six years imprisonment as well as the removal of the right to vote and be voted for.
‘Not my problem’
Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said yesterday his camp would not file any vote-buying case against Villar for giving out cash and scholarships to people.
“It’s up to the Comelec. I am not a lawyer. I have no advice to give to my opponent. They have competent minds to assist them,” Aquino said in a press conference in Cebu upon his arrival here to meet his supporters. He came from General Santos City where he also had a sortie.
Aquino said the LP would not file a disqualification case since the Comelec should know how to deal with cases like that.
He said he could not judge for himself if Villar was indeed buying votes.
“One can look at it that way. In my case, I am an incumbent senator, there are people who request medical assistance. What I do is I refer them to my office, there is a unit in my office that is in charge of taking care of them so we can separate the campaign from other functions of my office,” Aquino said.
Bagumbayan presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday said Villar should be censured for giving out scholarships during the election campaign season.
“He should be censured. Why only now? Someone asked me for a scholarship and I said, see me in June,” said Gordon.
Meanwhile, Gordon said Filipinos should be weaned away from the culture of patronage.
In a related development, the LP branded yesterday as bogus the coalition between the Nacionalista Party and the Nationalist People’s Coalition aimed at stealing the dominant party status for the coming elections.
LP campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad said NPC officials themselves cried foul over the supposed coalition since they were not consulted about it.
Abad said long-time NPC stalwart, former General Santos City Rep. Lu Antonino, disowned the supposed NPC-NP coalition, which was seeking accreditation as the dominant opposition party.
“Antonino and many other NPC leaders are protesting that they have not been informed, much less consulted, on the supposed coalition,” Abad said.
The accreditation is granted to the opposition party that can show that it has: one, the most number of incumbents from senators down to councilors; two, the most number of candidates, from President down to the last councilor; and three, the most extensive chapters, from the province down to the municipality.
“Matched against the LP, the NP loses following the said categories. Thus, this belated coalition with the NPC and this attempt to get accreditation as a coalition,” Abad said.
According to Abad, the accreditation gives the dominant opposition party the right to be assigned a server for the purpose of the canvassing of votes in the automated elections of May 2010.
“For NP, it also removes the tag of engaging in an ‘unholy alliance’ with the administration. With the accreditation, it can go to town and proclaim itself the real opposition, even when it is not,” Abad said.
“The NP-NPC coalition is questionable based on two grounds: first, it is not a registered coalition, the period for registering coalitions having already lapsed; and second, the consent of key NPC stalwarts was not secured, making the so-called coalition unauthorized insofar as the NPC is concerned,” Abad said.
In a statement, Antonino said several members of the NPC expressed surprise over the reported coalition of their party with the NP.
After Sen. Francis Escudero withdrew from the presidential race, Antonino said NPC members agreed not to officially endorse any presidential candidate.
“Party members nationwide have since coalesced with other political parties in the local contests and have thrown their support for their personal choice of presidential candidates,” Antonino said.
Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza is aiming to become senator as guest candidate of former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, while Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella, who is running for re-election, is likewise supporting the former president.
Negros NPC leader Albee Benitez, who is seeking a congressional seat, and former governor Rosette Lerias (NPC, Southern Leyte), have come out in support of LP presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino’s presidential bid, Antonino pointed out.
The statement also said that South Cotabato Rep. Darlene Antonino and Gov. Daisy Fuentes are supporting LP vice presidential bet Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II instead Sen. Loren Legarda, the NPC candidate who is running under NP.
Antonino said party members believe this supposed coalition raised questions because nationwide, “there are 239 NPC members who are being opposed by a Nacionalista candidate.”
The more prominent ones include former congressman Claude Bautista (NPC, Davao del Sur) who is running against Gov. Douglas Cagas (NP), and Gov. Emilio Masias II (NPC, Negros Oriental) who is pitted against Jose Baldado (NP).
“In such cases, who is to be recognized as representing the dominant minority party in those areas? This can be complicated. Overall, there are 15 congressional candidates, five gubernatorial, eight vice-gubernatorial, 78 mayoral, 92 vice mayoral, and 41 board membership candidates from our party who are in direct confrontation with Villar’s NP,” NPC South Cotabato Vice Governor Manny Piñol said. – With Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica, Mike Frialde