Villar his own worst enemy
By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The fall in the poll ratings of Sen. Manuel Villar accelerated during the last two weeks of April when two issues exploded to derail his presidential campaign.
The first was the news story on April 23 that Villar put pressure on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) between May and June 2007 to release for a public offering locked-up shares of stocks of Villar’s real estate company.
The second issue stemmed from news reports on April 8 of an alleged psychiatric report on the mental health of Liberal Party presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III that turned out to be fake and originated from overenthusiastic “volunteer” supporters of Villar.
This report was dumped into the media stream as Villar’s poll ratings were going down. The publication of the falsified report in both broadcast and print media marked the descent of the 2010 presidential election into its lowest level of dirty tricks and smear campaign.
These news events have something to do with the decline of Villar’s ratings and the widening of the lead of Aquino up to the most recent 20 percentage points over the second-placer Villar in just a week before the May 10 presidential election.
These news developments threw into sharp relief as the underlying key election issue, i.e., who of the presidential candidates can be entrusted to run an honest and ethical government to replace the corrupt and scandal-ridden administration of exiting President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The issue of integrity, honesty and conflict of interest has been highlighted by the media events of the past two weeks as the defining theme of the 2010 election.
On April 22, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile disclosed in a press conference minutes of the PSE discussions in 2007 on Villar’s Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc. showing that Villar appeared in a regular meeting of the PSE board and then had a caucus with them in June 2007.
As a result of Villar’s intervention, the PSE board allowed the release from escrow locked-up Vista Land shares for the company’s public offering.
From the record of all these proceedings, Enrile said there was no doubt in his mind that Senator Villar himself lobbied and exerted pressure to railroad the approval of his family-owned company’s request for exemption to enable him and his family to sell at a hefty premium their shares which were otherwise subject to a lockup period.
Enrile raised the issue of conflict of interest. He said that intervention of Villar showed that the latter, who was directly managing his company, violated the law. “He should have divested all his interests when he assumed his position as senator,” Enrile said.
Also delving into Villar’s interventions in the SEC and PSC, an article by Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Gerry Lirio came out on April 24 revealing that Villar, then the Senate president, made several phone calls to the SEC and PSE officials seeking to release from escrow about 1.2 billion of the 5.3 billion secondary shares of Visa Land so these could be offered as both as primary and secondary shares at the same time, or several days apart.
According to SEC and PSE lawyers interviewed by Lirio, Villar not only made the calls but also appeared in SEC and PSE board meetings.
Villar and his wife Cynthia, the Las Piñas representative in Congress, are majority stockholders of Vista Land, the couple’s flagship company. Lirio’s article said the couple became P6.75 billion richer from the secondary offering of 985.9 million shares that began on July 26, 2007, or within the escrow period of 180 days from the date of initial offering.
According to lawyers, this offering violated Article III, Part D, Section 7 of the PSE’s revised listing rules, which provides for a 180-day lockup on secondary shares. The article said that simply put, Villar wanted the secondary offering held at once despite the 180-day lockup period. “He wanted to seize the day while the market was bullish,” the article said. “And he got it.”
Law on divestment
Villar said there was nothing inappropriate with his interventions in the PSE, pointing out that the PSE was not a government agency but a private company. He said the government earned more than P100 million in taxes from the public offering of Vista Land shares.
Villar is not entirely correct when he said his intervention did not violate any law. He must have overlooked Republic Act No. 6713, known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Section 9 of RA 6713 states: “A public official or employee shall avoid conflict of interest at all times. When a conflict of interest arises, he shall resign from his position in any private business enterprise within 30 days from his assumption of office and/or divest himself of his shareholdings of interest within 60 days from such assumption. The same rule shall apply where the public official or employee is a partner in a partnership.”
There is nothing on record that Villar has divested himself of his holdings in his company when he intervened in the PSE and SEC.
Not so long ago, Sen. Joker Arroyo called the attention of Villar that the latter cannot be a senator and a businessman at the same time.
Villar has to make up his mind whether he is senator or a businessman. He is even aspiring to be the country’s president, who has vastly more powers of intervention in official or private business matters than a senator.
We have to hear from Villar whether he will divest himself of his business interests and put them in a blind trust if he were elected president. This is an ethical issue that puts him on the spot.
His interventions reveals not only the ethical values of Villar on the issue of public office as a public trust but more so throws light into his methods in accumulating vast wealth as a businessman cloaked with the powers and influence of being a member of Congress for 16 years.
The newspaper disclosures of Villar’s interventions have drilled into the public more deeply ethical issues arising from the C-5 extension project which the Senate investigated and sought to reprimand the presidential candidate for his conduct.
The disclosure on Villar’s interventions in the PSE and SEC came at a time when he was struggling to overtake the widening lead of Aquino.
There is little doubt that the last-minute emergence of this ethical issue has not only badly damaged his campaign. It has allowed Aquino to pull away with a wide margin.
Villar laments he is swimming in “a sea of black propaganda.” But the case of his interventions are backed by documentary evidence.
They are not faked documents unlike the fabricated psychiatric reports on Aquino.
Villar’s response to this crumbling ratings has only sunk him deeper. Reeling from the blows delivered by the surveys, Villar is his worst enemy.
His reckless and desperate responses have revealed that he has an enormous talent for self-destruction.