Gordon accuses Villar of bribe attempt, buying off media
By Cathy C. Yamsuan, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Richard Gordon Tuesday accused Sen. Manuel Villar, one of his rivals for the presidency, not only of bribery and bullying but also of buying off members of the media.
Gordon said in a live interview over radio station dzBB that through an emissary sent “about three days before the Senate ended its session” on Feb. 3, Villar offered him a Cabinet post and reimbursement of his campaign expenses in exchange for joining a plot to unseat Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and pulling out of the presidential race.
He said the emissary also asked that he withdraw his signature from the report of the Senate committee of the whole recommending Villar’s censure in connection with the C-5 road extension controversy.
Gordon, the presidential candidate of the Bagumbayan party, likewise observed that his statements distributed to reporters were not being published or broadcast, and said it seemed that Villar had bought the media.
“It’s like there is a wall. I might as well say this on national radio. There’s a wall that blocks the things we want to say. There are those who are protecting Villar … in the media,” Gordon said in “Ikaw Na Ba: The Presidential Interview” with Mike Enriquez.
“They are saying that my campaign is hopeless. Let’s see who’s hopeless now. You’re trying to bully me! You think your money can buy everything (Nangangaya kayo! Dinadaan n’yo sa pera)!” he said. “I will fight back.”
‘I didn’t do it’
On the road with reporters in Surigao City en route to Butuan City, the Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer denied having offered Gordon a Cabinet post and reimbursement of campaign expenses in exchange for withdrawal from the presidential race.
“I don’t do such things. I haven’t offered anything to anyone, so be warned,” Villar said in Filipino. “There are people who fool others, and you might become a victim.”
Villar said Gordon should name the purported emissary. “I haven’t asked anyone to back out of the race and I am ready to face anyone in a fair fight,” he said.
The self-made billionaire also said he did not have the money to buy Gordon out. “Whatever budget is left is just enough for my campaign,” he said.
Gordon had declined to identify Villar’s purported emissary whom he described as an influential person (“malaking tao”).
A member of Gordon’s staff said that in a provincial campaign sortie last week, the senator revealed that the emissary was “someone close to Villar.”
The afternoon news program of QTV station described the emissary as “a former official” and “a common friend” of Villar and Gordon.
Senate insiders said this was the first time a senator other than Enrile had tagged Villar as the one behind the ouster plot.
The plot was apparently spurred by Enrile’s decision to proceed with the drafting of the committee report that also recommended that Villar return the P6 billion spent by the government on the C-5 road extension.
The report called for Villar’s censure for conflict of interest following his failure to disclose his continued involvement in the housing development companies that benefited from the road extension project.
One week before campaign
“About a week before the start of the campaign, three days before the Senate closed, someone approached me and asked that I withdraw my support for Senator Enrile so that Villar again becomes the Senate president,” Gordon said in Filipino.
“They were just waiting for my vote [so they can start the ouster move]. In exchange, [the emissary said,] ‘I will reimburse the campaign expenses you have incurred so far and what you would spend if you withdraw,’” Gordon said.
The emissary also offered to give Gordon any Cabinet position he wanted.
‘I cannot be bought’
“If I withdraw, I can ask for any position in the government. It would be my choice,” he said.
Asked whether the offer still held, Gordon said: “No, because the move to oust Enrile did not push through.”
He added: “All of this is true. My child saw this person enter my house. It’s my duty to reveal that all this occurred. But I told [the emissary] that I cannot be bought.”
Gordon said that after the incident, he was entering the Senate session hall one afternoon and was surprised when Enrile hugged him.
“Thank you, Dick. I heard what happened,” he quoted Enrile as saying.
At this point in the interview, Enriquez asked Gordon who had tried to bribe him.
“Si (It’s) Villar,” Gordon said.
“Huh? Siya mismo (Him exactly)?” Enriquez said.
“No, the emissary was sent by Villar,” Gordon said.
Asked whether he was sure, Gordon said Villar would not have sent the emissary if he were not serious.
Enriquez then pressed Gordon about the emissary’s identity.
“You will know that later,” Gordon said. “I want them to answer this issue first.”
He recalled that the offer was made a week before Feb. 9, when the campaign of national candidates began.
To be expected
Villar called on the public and his supporters not to instantly believe what his opponents were saying. He said taking potshots at a rival candidate was to be expected in elections.
But he said: “I also warn [my opponents] to be careful in throwing allegations [at me].”
In a separate radio interview, NP senatorial candidate and spokesperson Gilbert Remulla read from an official party statement: “No offer was made and no emissary was sent to talk to Gordon.
“No feeler was even conveyed by text, e-mail, Facebook or sign language. This is not to belittle his standing, but even a campaign manager of a candidate for councilor will tell you that there is no incentive in offering an alliance to a candidate whose survey rating is always preceded by a decimal point.
“Senator Gordon is not a top contender in the presidential race, to begin with. His numbers are not that significant, so what he is saying is impossible.
“Senator Gordon roars like a lion and would make an attractive cheerleader in any campaign he would retreat to, but Team Villar is not interested in his services.
“Why didn’t Dick Gordon blame Villar for the [Feb. 27] earthquake in Chile as well? It’s getting ridiculous and preposterous, all these allegations. We don’t care what Gordon says.”
Not that desperate
In an ambush interview, Remulla said he doubted the veracity of the ouster plot against Enrile.
“It’s very difficult to approach a person like Dick Gordon. If there is somebody who is independent-minded, someone you cannot put a rein on … it would be Dick Gordon. So why would we approach him and risk something coming out [in the media]? We’re not that desperate,” Remulla said.
Remulla cited three reasons why Gordon’s claims could not be true:
“First of all, Senator Villar and the NP have a very good campaign already.
“Second, Senator Gordon has a very low voter base. Why the need for him to be on our side?
“Third, even if he withdraws, we can see in the surveys that his voters won’t go to Senator Villar. There’s no logic to what he is saying. He is saying those things to get media attention.”
Remulla also questioned the timing of Gordon’s claims, and said he only wanted to make “a public spectacle” of himself.
‘I’m not like that’
Villar reiterated that he was running “a clean, orderly” campaign.
“I respect all the other candidates. Maybe there are those who want to destroy me, so they make an offer, but blame it on me. I’m not like that, please don’t believe them.”
Villar said he did not expect anyone to back out of the presidential race because the May 10 polls were only two months away.
He also denied seeking the intercession of El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde to convince former President Joseph Estrada to withdraw from the race.
“I haven’t talked to anyone [on the matter]. As I’ve said, we are all prepared for [the campaign] until May,” he said.
He added that if one were “the usual target” of a demolition job, “that means you are the front-runner.”