Villar sees conspiracy pattern; Gordon dared to name names
By Michael Lim Ubac, Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar Thursday said he was seeing the “pattern” of a conspiracy to derail his presidential candidacy.
Villar said the latest bribery issue being raised against him had been “recycled” by the “same characters” who had hounded him in the Senate, apparently to sustain a demolition job on him for the duration of the campaign period.
“I can see the pattern—all of them want to paint a picture of me buying off [rivals and] the media,” the self-made billionaire told TV and radio host Mike Enriquez over dzBB as part of the station’s “presidential interview series.”
“And—haven’t you noticed—all of them have a quarrel with me in the Senate?” Villar said.
“Just like [Sen. Richard ‘Dick’ Gordon’s] accusation, how did he know that I sent the emissary? Second, why [expose it] only now?” he said, referring to an allegation made earlier this week by one of his rivals in the Palace derby.
Gordon had claimed in a live radio interview that an emissary of Villar’s offered him a Cabinet post and reimbursement of his campaign expenses if he would pull out of the race and withdraw his signature from a Senate committee report censuring Villar in connection with the C-5 road extension project.
In Davao City, Villar’s running mate called on Gordon to end the striptease and finally name the supposed emissary.
In an ambush interview before she left for the cities of Tagum and Panabo in Compostela Valley province where the NP slate campaigned Thursday, Loren Legarda said rival parties should discuss pressing issues rather than engage in rumor-mongering and “poison campaigning.”
“The issues are poverty, hunger, El Niño and brownouts,” she said, adding that while she was already on her fourth national campaign, nothing had changed in the way electoral battles were being waged.
“I don’t want to quarrel with a candidate of another party, and Dick is a good friend,” she said of Gordon, the standard-bearer of the Bagumbayan party.
‘Why should he?’
But Legarda said she did not believe Gordon’s claim.
“Senator Villar will not do that. I’m sure about it. Why should he when he is already at the top [of the surveys]?” she said, adding:
“He is well-loved by the people. I know my president—that’s not his habit.”
Legarda said Gordon should name names instead of letting the public play a “dangerous” guessing game.
“With all due respect to my dear friend Dick, that’s not Senator Villar’s trademark. He does not need to do that [to win the presidency],” she said.
Asked if she thought Gordon was already feeling desperate because of his poor survey ratings, Legarda said she did not want to pass judgment on a colleague.
Villar expressed confidence that he would win as president even without soliciting the help of his critics.
“They are saying the same things because the strategy is for them to create an impression that I am in the habit of bribing people. But all my money came from hard work and patience, from my sweat and blood. I don’t just give it away to anyone.”
Apparently alluding to Gordon, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jamby Madrigal, Villar said they had taken turns assailing him in public with old and new charges.
“If you look at the characters, the personalities involved … the players don’t change. The issues are repeated, recycled. They are lucky [because] they are being talked about again [in the media],” he said.
Like Gordon, Madrigal is also running for president. Enrile is seeking reelection.
Asked pointblank by Enriquez if he had indeed made an offer to Gordon, Villar gave a circuitous reply:
“I am campaigning. I have here my own plan. We have our own platform, … our own program and we don’t think of whether someone is backing out or not. We don’t interfere in the affairs of others. My assumption is all of them will run [for election], and I’m not in the habit of buying off [critics] just like that.”
Villar said he had proven his competence to head executive positions.
“We showed excellence, we get along with [colleagues], we have managed very well. I don’t need [to bribe Gordon] to get the confidence of those who will support me,” said the former House Speaker and Senate president.
Villar again justified his spending a fortune on TV and radio ads, saying this was the only way to reach out to voters because he did not have famous parents or celebrity siblings.
“That is not illegal, and I worked hard to earn that money,” he said. “I [also] admit that I have spent so much money in helping the poor for the past 20 years.”
Villar insisted that he was not seeking to recoup his campaign expenses in running for president.
“You know, if I still want to get richer, why should I keep giving away money?”
So sue me
In answer to questions raised by Enriquez on his integrity, Villar said his moneyed critics had a “crab mentality” for being unable to accept that he managed to rise from poverty without engaging in corrupt practices.
He challenged those critics to file cases against him in court:
“My point is, we have the judiciary, we have the courts. If I made a mistake, file everything [in court]. But the truth is, my conscience is clear that I have done nothing wrong. I did not steal from government and my integrity is the one thing I can be proud of.
“What I’m saying is, they’re ganging up on me but they cannot prove what I supposedly did.”
Some of Villar’s colleagues in the Senate wanted him censured for the controversial C-5 road extension project from which his real estate empire allegedly benefited.
The Liberal Party (LP) has also resurrected allegations that Villar’s companies built housing projects on agricultural lands in various areas nationwide—an accusation that he has denied.
Villar is in a neck-and-neck race for the presidency with the LP standard-bearer, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, thanks to his radio and TV ads and other marketing gimmicks on TV that were aimed at the gut of the hungry masses.
But in the interview with Enriquez, Villar only managed to mention focusing on agriculture as one way his presidency would ease the lot of the poor.
He dwelled mostly on how someone like him with a proven track record in “leadership”—both in the government and in the business sector—could solve the problem of poverty.
He said the mark of good management was, as a chief executive officer, being able to make a company “No. 1.” It was a reference to how he turned his low-cost housing business into one of the country’s biggest corporations.
Villar also said he wanted a stronger judiciary with a bigger fund allocation as one way to solve corruption in government.
“There should be an increase in budget in the judiciary for it to be able to get more lawyers. And judges’ salaries should also be raised so that we can go after all corrupt officials,” he said.