Who junked compassion and decency?

Who junked compassion and decency?
By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer

HERE IS A CANDIDATE RUNNING FOR THE highest office in the land, whose entire campaign is based on two themes: the first is that he rose, literally from the gutter, to conquer poverty, and that having done so, he can do the same for his fellow Filipinos. Been there, done that. The second is that his motives for running for the presidency are of the purest—he wants to repay the country for the blessings he has received. In any case, it is definitely not a desire to enrich himself—because if he wanted to make more money, all he needed to do was to just go back to his business, where he has made oodles of it.

TV viewers and radio listeners have heard these messages over and over again, and not unnaturally, the question arose: Is this for real? I say not unnaturally, because his credibility and his integrity had just come into question over road projects—C-5 Extension and Daang Hari among them—that just happened to pass through several of his subdivisions. I had done research on the C-5 Extension controversy, and the results are for anyone interested to see or read, thanks to the Internet, so that it should suffice to say that Sen. Manny Villar didn’t come out too well on that issue. It follows that one would be interested in verifying the basis of the Villar campaign theme as well.

The result of that research came out in this column a couple of weeks ago: documentary evidence—in the form of a death certificate, and a transfer certificate of title, and the senator’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

The first two documents strongly suggest that, indeed, the Villar family was certainly neither dirt poor nor even poor at all: at the time of his younger brother’s death, his family’s address (information provided by his father) turned out to be a one-and-a-half story house on a 560-sq m lot in the better side of Tondo, or rather Navotas. (My colleague in television, Arnold Clavio, was born and raised in Tondo, and he recalls visiting his “rich” relatives who lived in the same village where the Villars had their home.) It also turns out that little Danny Villar had actually died of leukemia—and even the richest family on earth would not have been able to prevent that death, because at the time (1962) there was no treatment for this illness (there still is none now, although medical advances have been made that would prolong the life of the victim).

The third set of documents shows that Senator Villar’s net worth had increased to more than 13 times its original value from the time he became a congressman in 1992 to 2008, when he was a senator (and became Senate president). Which would strongly suggest that the rise in his fortunes was closely connected to his government service.

The bottom line has to be obvious: Villar’s campaign ads have no basis in truth and in fact.

So now come the reproaches:

One is that the extensive investigation of the details of this episode was in utter disregard of compassion and decency. This reproach was leveled at the Aquino camp, of which I am not a member, but since I did investigate—as any journalist should—then I must also be in utter disregard of compassion and decency. Excuse my dust. But if there was any disregard of compassion and decency, this had to be shown by the person/s who exploited the death of a child in order to gain sympathy and, let’s face it, win votes, not by the ones who did the investigation. Don’t kill the messenger, please. Did the TV ad not include the picture of two young boys, the death of one of whom was attributed to utter poverty?

Another reproach is that the 86/87-year-old (both figures are used) mother of Senator Villar, fondly called “Aling Curing,” must be suffering over the way her family is being portrayed by the camp of the arch-rival of her son. Aling Curing, it is further detailed, used to run a little sari-sari store in Singalong until two years ago, when she had to quit because of her glaucoma. And that she must have suffered immensely from the death of that young boy, so why now rake up all the “sordid details”?

Now if there is anyone in the Villar family that we all have to take our hats off to, it has to be Aling Curing. She is the real heroine in the Villar family. There is no record of what her contribution was to the family coffers, but I can only imagine that it was at least as large as her husband’s government salary, because she was an entrepreneur—a crab and shrimp dealer who would buy the stuff wholesale and then sell them to the market vendors as well as to hotels and restaurants. And all this, while she was bearing and raising nine children, seeing to it that they got the best education she and her husband could afford. It must have been her entrepreneurship that influenced her son Manny to become an entrepreneur as well, and operating a sari-sari store into her mid-80s is testament to her true grit.

Yes, Aling Curing must be suffering over the way her family is being portrayed—but by her own son himself. How would you feel if after successfully putting your children through school and putting a comfortable roof over their heads, one of them portrays you as being an economic failure, and impliedly irresponsible, because you brought nine children into poverty, with one of them having to swim in a sea of garbage and another dying because you and your husband couldn’t afford the medical care? Talk of biting the hand that fed him.

She must be very forgiving. I salute her.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.