Francis Lim

The inside story of Villar's visit to PSE

The inside story of Villar’s visit to PSE
By Lala Rimando
abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential aspirant Manuel Villar could argue that he did not violate any law or a regulatory rule when his family’s real estate firms were able to raise billions of pesos through the stock exchange in 2007. However, he crossed ethical lines.

Villar had “improperly interfered” when he attended a meeting of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) board that was called to discuss an issue about Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc., his holding firm, according to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile during a press conference on Thursday.

Villar was the Senate president in 2007 until Enrile replaced him in 2008.

In June 29, 2007, Villar attended the PSE board meeting purportedly to personally justify to the directors why some Vista Land shares should be allowed to be sold to public investors.

While his corporate lieutenants could have done the job, his presence in the boardroom was meant to rush the board directors in making a decision since Vista Land’s investment bankers and underwriters were about to hit the road to market Vista Land shares to local and foreign investors.

That same day, the PSE board decided to allow the release of some Vista Land shares from escrow. Villar had wanted the board to free up shares equivalent to 30% of the holding firm. The board’s decision was to allow only 11%. It was generally perceived as a decision in Villar’s favor.

“I got the impression that this guy really gets what he wants,” shared a well-placed source who was in that PSE board meeting. “I had shivers.” (Read: When Villar’s business and politics mix)

Villar’s presence at a PSE board meeting is not new to Manila’s business community. The incident has spread around and the general impression at the time was about Villar was throwing his weight around.

Bong Bernas, a corporate lawyer who has listed firms as clients, said businessmen whose empire has reached a certain size and scale are aware of the weight of their position, even if they are just in the private sector. “They don’t want image issues,” he shared.

On Villar’s visit to the PSE, Bernas has this to say: “There was clear conflict-of-interest there. He should not have used the weight of his office for personal gain.”

The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, says a public official “shall avoid conflict of interest at all times.” (Read: When Villar’s business and politics mix)

Shares under lock-up

Villar reached out to the PSE board because he wanted to include the shares of his firm, Polar Properties, in Vista Land to be part of the pool of listed Vista Land shares sold to the public.

Polar, which used to be the residential condominium arm of the Villar Group, had 722,615,487 shares in Vista Land at the time the holding firm listed its common shares in the PSE.

The practice at the PSE was to identify who among the shareholders have 10% or more stake in the company after its shares were listed in the exchange. The physical copy of the shares are then delivered to a bank or another escrow agent, and these could not be withdrawn and sold before the lock-up period of 180 days.

Having a lock-up period is a common rule among stock markets in the world since it aims to protect the minority shareholders. Those who own a considerable stake—described as 10% and above—are likely to have acquired their existing shares at a price lower than how much new investors would buy them from the stock market for the first time during a public offering.

In the case of Polar, it acquired its Vista Land shares at P2.46 per share during a previous share swap exercise. At the time of listing, new investors acquired their Vista Land shares at around P6.85.

With a lock-up period, the existing shareholders would not be able to sell their shares, make a fat profit of around P4.4 per share (P6.85 selling price minus P2.46 acquisition cost), and leave behind the new ones who have yet to earn the same margin.

Since the stake of Polar in Vista Land was equivalent to 11.3%, these shares were set aside to an escrow account. The same was imposed on Fine Properties and Adelfa Properties, which at the time had 47.6% and 24.3%, respectively, in Vista Land.

Just because Polar breached the 10% threshold for the lock-up rule by a slim 1.3%, Polar’s shareholders could not sell any of its shares in Vista Land for 6 months.

At the target price of P6.85 per Vista Land share at the time, each share of Polar was worth P105 million. The entire block was worth P5 billion.

Villar’s presence in the PSE boardroom was an effort to ask the board to reconsider putting off the chance for Polar, which his family also effectively owns, to immediately cash in on the entire or a portion of its block shares.

Corporate lieutenants

The lock-up issue on the shares of Polar stemmed from the lack of coordination between two groups that were working on the Vista Land fund raising.

The cast of characters in this whole scheme included law firms—Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos Law Firm and Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles Law Office—and those in charge of raising the funds: global coordinator and bookrunner UBS Investment Bank, co-lead manager ABN Amro Rothschild, and lead domestic underwriter BDO Capital and Investment Corporation.

One group was in charge of restructuring the entire Villar Group of real estate companies to raise funds for expansion plans and, as Enrile has alleged, for the campaign kitty of Villar.

Raising funds through the stock market was the chosen route since the real estate group, mainly previous flagship firm Camella & Palmera Homes (C&P), would have difficulty tapping the debt market again. C&P and its sister companies had defaulted on billions of pesos of debts from commercial banks and bond investors in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis.

The law firms essentially moved assets and resources around through share swaps, property dividends, among others. In early 2007, Vista Land emerged. It was packaged to be the largest homebuilder in the country and its portfolio of products ranged from low-end to high-end, and from horizontal to high-rise or vertical developments.

This first group arranged and signed the escrow agreement to lock up Polar’s shares for 6 months starting June 20, 2007.

The following day, June 21, the second group—composed of the investment bankers and underwriters—called the attention of PSE’s listing unit. In a letter request, this group asked that the shares of Polar be excluded from the lock up period.

The reason, apparently, was that the two groups are not abreast of the goal of the other. The investment bankers and underwriters, for instance, had already included the Polar shares in the pool of primary and secondary shares they were about to offer to public investors. The more shares the bankers could sell, the higher the chance they could produce the fresh funds that Villar and Vista Land were aiming to raise.

Proceeds from the sale of the 2.12 billion primary shares would translate to over P14.5 billion in fresh funds for the coffers of Vista Land. On the other hand, proceeds from the 986 million secondary shares will yield almost P7 billion, but this will go to the existing Vista Land shareholders, including Polar.

Apparently, the investment bankers wanted to sell 2% out of Polar’s 11% stake since this means another P1 billion in fresh funds for Polar’s shareholders, which include the Villar family.

Polar is 53% owned by Adelfa Properties, where spouses Manuel and Cynthia Villar have a combined 99% stake, based on the 2009 SEC records.

“Director Vivian Yuchengco said the board is in this predicament because of the fault of the underwriters and counsels who insisted on the structure. She suggested that sanctions be given to these professionals who caused these problem knowing fully well that the Exchange requires the lock up,” according to the minutes of a PSE board meeting provided by Enrile during the Thursday presscon.

No lock-up rule

“We didn’t know what rule we will apply to allow the release of Polar shares that were already locked up,” a source who was present in the board meetings said. The source spoke to abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak on condition of anonymity.

The minutes of the board meetings confirmed that the PSE has no specific rule on how to apply the lock-up requirement in the mode of listing that Vista Land took.

Vista Land did not raise funds through an Initial Public Offering (IPO), which is the more common mode.

Vista Land raised funds through an alternative mode called Listing By Way of Introduction (LBWI), which is a way for companies to trade their shares and have access to liquidity. Some companies avail of this to prepare them for an IPO, which involves more stringent financial and documentary requirement. Others basically just want an avenue for their employees to trade their stock options through a financial market.

At the heart of the issue on whether Polar shares should be locked up or not is the difference between the listing date of the shares under an IPO mode and LBWI. Once the shares were listed in the stock exchange, public investors could already buy or sell them.

In an IPO, the company first offers the shares to the public before it lists the sold shares on the stock exchange. In an LBWI, the company lists its existing shares first on the stock exchange, before it could sell additional or new shares to raise funds.

Not having rules that could be directly applied to the Polar shares issue, the PSE’s Listings Department considered the lock up rule for IPOs: “The applicant company shall cause its existing stockholders or security holders who own an equivalent of at least 10% of the issued and outstanding shares not to sell, assign or in any manner dispose of their shares for a minimum period of 180 days after the listing of the said shares.”

All was fine and smooth as Vista Land’s lawyers agreed with the PSE to lock up the Polar shares and even executed the escrow agreement on June 20, 2007.

This was only raised when the other professional group working for Villar wanted to undo what the first group has already signed up and committed to.

Moreover, those who crafted the lock-up rules for the LBWI mode did not consider when or if the lock-up period applies to existing shareholders, like Polar, who would want to sell their shares in the company also on the same day that the company’s shares were listed.

According to the rules of the PSE for LBWI mode, the listed firm, in this case Vista Land, must “conduct a public offering of its shares within one year following the listing by introduction.”

There is no PSE rule that bans a firm that lists via LBWI to offer its shares to the public simultaneously with its listing.

Roadshows

As the PSE management and Vista Land counsels deal with these issues, the investment bankers and underwriters were uneasy. The roadshows on the Vista Land shares was to start 8 days after, or on June 29, 2007.

PSE president and chief executive officer Francis Lim raised the issue to the board. The PSE directors, however, only had one regular board meeting before June 29.

On June 27, the board members had a regular meeting and the case of Vista Land-Polar was in the agenda. The meeting ended without the board arriving at a final decision.

A special board meeting was called on the morning of June 29. Board members were surprised when Villar walked in with Lim.

Villar was in that special meeting with the group of Atty. Gemma Santos, the legal counsel for Vista Land, and the representatives of UBS, according to the meeting notes.

“Mr. Villar thanked the members of the board and gave a short background on the application of the Villar group to release shares in lock up so that they could be included as part of Vista Land’s public offering,” the minutes of the meeting chronicled.

Villar and UBS reportedly tried to bat for the lifting of the lock-up rule not only on Polar shares but also on Fine Properties (48% stake in Vista Land). They were eyeing some 30% of the locked up shares to be added to the shares for sale.

He stayed for less than an hour.

After the board members’ caucus, they debated the case of Vista Land from 10:00a.m. to 10:30a.m.(Read: How Villar ‘pressured’ the PSE board)

At the end of the meeting, the board has agreed to allow the release of the escrowed shares of Polar. Some 2%, out of the 11%, were eventually included in the pool of secondary shares for sale.

In a day, Polar’s 11% shares in Vista Land was listed on the exchange. Two percent of which were sold by the underwriters. At the end of the day, Polar was left with only 9%, which means it did not reach the 10% trigger level for the lock-up rule anymore.

In 2008, Polar’s stake in Vista Land has been whittled down to 5.35%. This means its owners have already cashed in somewhere in the vicinity of P2 billion from selling its shares in the listed company.

Villar: Trouble with hellos

Villar: Trouble with hellos

NP bet used influence to twist stock market rules

By Gerry Lirio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

(First of two parts)

MANILA, Philippines—Hello Fe! Hello Francis!

Sen. Manny Villar called Fe Barin, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Francis Lim, then president of the Philippine Stock Exchange, many times sometime between May and June 2007, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has learned.

But the calls, according to SEC and PSE lawyers and brokers interviewed by the Inquirer on separate occasions, were “too many to be easily dismissed and forgotten.”

They couldn’t forget about the calls either, they said, most especially because Villar, then Senate President, wanted the SEC and PSE officials “to throw the exchange rules out the window.”

Villar was seeking the release from escrow of about 1.2 billion of the 5.3 billion secondary shares of Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc. in June 2007 so these could be offered both as primary and secondary shares at the same time, or several days apart.

The Senate President not only made the calls, he also appeared before SEC and PSE board meetings, the lawyers said.

Villar and his wife Cynthia, the Las Piñas representative, are majority stockholders of Vista Land, the couple’s flagship company.

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.

Lawyers said this violated article III, part D, section 7, of the exchange’s revised listing rules, which provides for a 180-day lockup on the secondary shares.

Vista Land, formed only in February 2007 to oversee operations of decades-old real estate brands Camella, a listed firm, Crown Asia and Brittany, made P14.5 billion from the sale of 2.12 billion primary shares.

Despite a weak showing in early trade, share prices soared to more than the offer price of P6.90, or up to as much as P7.50 per share. Share prices subsequently took a dive and hardly recovered since the secondary offering.

Simply put, Villar wanted the secondary offering held at once, despite the 180-day lock-up rule. He wanted to seize the day while the market was bullish. And he got it.

180-day lock-up rule

The rule, according to a PSE document obtained by the Inquirer, requires a company to cause its shareholders owning at least 10 percent of its issued and outstanding capital to enter into an agreement not to sell, assign, or in any manner dispose of their shares within the 180-day period from the listing of the shares.

The 180-day rule effectively puts the secondary shares in escrow mainly to allow the public buying into the primary shares to have their due course, stabilize the market share of prices, and to prevent the majority stockholders from abandoning the company which could take place during a secondary offering.

“It is an assurance that the majority stockholders are not selling just because they want to abandon ship and that they want to first jump from it,” an SEC lawyer said.

It also allows the SEC to check a company’s tangible assets of any legal encumbrances and, if so, if it is worth stopping the public offering.

How Villar managed to get his wish shocked some SEC and PSE lawyers and stockbrokers. Five of them talked to the Inquirer separately at the height of the controversy surrounding an ethical complaint lodged by Sen. Jamby Madrigal against the billionaire-senator last year in connection with the multibillion C-5 road diversion controversy.

Lobbying for private business

The trouble with Villar’s phone calls, the lawyers said, was that these were “unethical and inappropriate” because he was a high-ranking government official personally lobbying for his private business interest. “These exerted so much pressure on the PSE board,” a lawyer added.

An initial public offering is often undertaken by younger and smaller companies looking for new capital to fund expansion plans, though some large privately owned companies may also look to enter public trading.

A secondary public offering is an opportunity to welcome new investors into the company. But more importantly, it gives the selling shareholders the chance to cash in on their holdings with minimum tax payments.

This is allowed, but the shareholders need to observe the 180-day lock-up period after the initial offering.

The PSE approved the application of Vista Land for initial listing on May 24, 2007, subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions, among which was compliance with article III of its revised listing rules.

Terms sheet

As indicated in their signed offer terms sheet, the selling shareholders (or the Villars’ holding companies) namely, Adelfa, and Polar, offered to the public a total of 1,265,000,000 Vista Land in secondary shares.

To comply with the requirement, Vista Land and the shareholders executed an agreement with its agent ATR Kim Eng Capital Partners Inc. placing in escrow 5,320,192,648, representing the Villars’ 82.28 percent stake on June 20, 2007.

Broken down, the shares belonged to Fine Properties, 3,042,615, 495 (47.63 percent); Adelfa Properties, 1,554,961,666 (23.34 percent); Polar Property Holdings Corp., 722,615,487 (11.31 percent).

But on June 21, 2007, Vista Land requested the PSE in a letter to waive the 180-day lock-up period, according to the PSE document. The letter asked the PSE board to allow the exclusion and release from escrow of the secondary shares.

According to an SEC lawyer, Villar called Barin at least twice in the middle of an SEC board meeting. The SEC chair later revealed to the board that Villar had made other calls at other times.

Gatecrasher

The Inquirer tried to reach Barin, but a ranking SEC official said Barin had rejected many requests to talk publicly about Villar’s request.

But as if his calls were not enough, Villar made what the SEC lawyer called an “unprecedented” move. Along with Francis Lim, Villar went to the SEC board meeting “unannounced and uninvited” and right there and then, with Lim’s help, “made a pitch for a relaxation of the 180-day lock-up period before the board” which was “a no-no,” he added.

“Villar came too strong to get his wish,” the lawyer said. “He wanted Chair Barin and the board to swallow the rules.”

The five-person SEC board rejected Villar’s request. “The decision was made because there were a number of other IPOs during the period and they did not want to send a bad signal to investors,” the SEC lawyer said.

“The lockup is essentially a sign of sincerity of the original owners,” he said. “The rule not allowing the original stockholders would prevent them from taking advantage of high prices and not get out. So, investors would not be hoodwinked.”

Quick PSE decision

Under its rules, the SEC can give “exemptive” relief which is an “extraordinary” procedure.

The SEC lawyer said this called on the PSE to write the SEC’s market regulation department for it to refer the exemption to the SEC en banc. However, Villar made a shortcut because the market was bullish.

The lawyer said that to his knowledge, no exemption had been granted to anyone, or at least in the last four years.

The SEC disapproval prompted Lim, according to a PSE lawyer, to call for an “emergency meeting” of the PSE board several days before the offering to address Villar’s predicament.

“There at the meeting, Senator Villar threw his weight around and tried to twist the arm of the PSE board to get his wish,” the lawyer said.

“Anyway, you don’t always follow your rules,” the lawyer quoted Villar as telling the board. “Why can’t I get an exemption? Magtulungan na lang tayo (Let’s just help each other).”

Shocked PSE board

It was rare, according to the lawyer, that Lim had called for an unscheduled meeting. It was even rarer that a person, especially the then Senate President with a pending personal request, was made to appear before them and to argue his case, he added.

At least two PSE board members—Eusebio Tanco and Alejandro Yu—expressed shock and dismay over Villar’s overtures during the meeting, according to the lawyers.

The Inquirer tried to reach Tanco and Yu, but was told that they wouldn’t want to talk about it publicly, citing the exchange’s Old Boy network, the downside of esprit de corps.

Some PSE lawyers tried to dissuade the PSE board from granting Villar’s wish.

“Such secondary shares are currently held in escrow pursuant to the lock-up requirement discussed in the item above. The offer period is expected on July 16 to 20, 2007, which is within the escrow period,” the document said.

“By allowing Villar to break the rules,” the PSE document added, “the reputation of the exchange, particularly the consistent and equitable application of the rules, may be questioned if the said request will be granted.”

Despite the SEC disapproval, the PSE and Vista Land, then still having no IPO track record, went ahead with the secondary offering.

“There are a number of ways to skin a cat,” said a ranking SEC official when asked how this was done. While the SEC approves its rules and exemptions from it, he added, the PSE is a self-regulatory body.

Lim’s side

In a statement e-mailed to the Inquirer, Lim said the secondary shares offered under Vista Land’s follow-on offering was not part of the shares that were the subject of the 180-day lock-up.

“It is important to point out that the Vista Land offering was done in connection with its listing by way of introduction. The PSE rules on listing by introduction contemplate that the company be as widely held as possible by the investing public,” he said.

“The PSE Board’s approval of the listing application merely implemented a rule on listing by introduction. This rule requires the applicant company to conduct a public offering of its shares within one year following the listing by introduction,” he added.

But Lim didn’t explain why Villar had to gatecrash an SEC board meeting to follow up his request and why he had to accompany him. Neither did Lim say anything about calling for an emergency PSE board meeting to tackle the same.

Lim turned down Inquirer’s repeated requests for an interview to clarify all other questions.

$2 billion in foreign orders

On July 1, 2007, Vista Land went on a road show to attract foreign buyers in Hong Kong, Singapore, the United States and London. The road show was successful. Mostly foreign investors bought into the secondary offering, according to Vista Land president Jing Serrano.

Of the total offering, 70 percent was allocated to foreigners while the rest was sold to an otherwise lukewarm local market that found the prices too high, according to a broker.

Foreigners snapped up shares of Vista Land during its offer period, generating $2 billion in foreign orders. The company had UBS Investment Bank as sole global coordinator and bookrunner with ABN Amro Rothschild as co-lead manager while BDO Capital and Investment Corp. was the lead domestic underwriter.

Because share prices took a dive and had hardly recovered to its highs since the secondary offering, a local broker said, some minority stockholders raised concerns to BDO, but because they were not organized, nothing came out of it.

Likewise, because of Villar’s surprise visit at the PSE, the scheduled public offering of other companies either was delayed or took a back seat, she added. “By breaking the rules, Vista Land was allowed to break the line.”

By tradition and rules, the PSE lawyers said, the corporate body never allowed public offering of secondary shares and primary shares simultaneously, or a few days apart.

Look who’s calling

They recalled the public offerings of equally prominent companies such as Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and Petro Energy Resources Corp., which were made to follow the same rules. Metro went public in November 2006, Petro in August 2004.

“The lock-up rule has been one of the symbols for the minority of the majority shareholders commitment to its business. It has been respected and observed by all companies that have listed,” the PSE document said.

An SEC lawyer tried to rationalize Villar’s overtures, saying the SEC receives many calls from different people each day either following up papers or lobbying a favorable response for their businesses from the regulatory body.

“It’s some kind of a routine,” the lawyer said. “We get calls from any Tom, Dick and Harry each day. They are free to do that. It’s no big deal. It’s a different story if they ask us to do something illegal. But we do what is just and right here. If you can’t stand the pressure, you shouldn’t be here.”

The PSE lawyer thought otherwise.

“Senator Villar was not just any Tom, Dick, and Harry here,” he said. “He was the Senate President.”

Vista Land ‘non-issue, can’t kill senator; it’s politics, he’s a survivor’

Vista Land ‘non-issue, can’t kill senator; it’s politics, he’s a survivor’
By Gerry Lirio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Politics, Winston Churchill once said, is almost as exciting and as dangerous as war, except that in war, you can be killed only once, and in politics, many times.

Sen. Manuel Villar, now facing allegations of unethical conduct from C-5 to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), liked to cite this Churchillian dictum to describe the hazards of entering politics, especially when referring to his travails, presumably during the 2010 presidential campaign.

In a conversation with the Inquirer in May 2009—when talk first surfaced about his purported impropriety in pushing for the immediate secondary offering of shares of Vista Land, the parent company of his business empire, in July 2007—Villar said other presidential aspirants had been trying to do him in these past many years, and that this issue was just one more attempt to go for the kill.

“[My opponents] think they can benefit from [attacking me],” he said, adding that the attacks were meant to hurt, if not destroy, his presidential ambition and gain for them public support at his expense.

Villar and Vista Land officials were mum about the purported calls that the billionaire senator had made to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Fe Barin and then PSE president Francis Lim, as well as his meetings with them and their board members, in 2007.

As far as he was concerned, Villar said, there was “no controversy” surrounding the public sale of Vista Land shares, and the calls and meetings were “a nonissue.”

Not playing favorites

Also in May 2009, Vista Land president Jing Serrano said she was not familiar with the calls and meetings. She referred the Inquirer to Ricardo Tan, the company’s senior vice president for finance and chief information officer, but Tan ignored the questions sent to him.

Lim likewise sidestepped questions about having ordered an emergency PSE board meeting and having accompanied Villar to the SEC board. He dismissed a suggestion that he had “lawyered” for Villar.

“There is no truth whatsoever to this malicious allegation. I did not play favorites or committed any favoritism, much less lawyered for Senator Villar with respect to the Vista Land listing application,” Lim said in an e-mail to the Inquirer.

He added: “What I wanted to ensure as president of the PSE was for the PSE to treat Vista Land as fairly and objectively as possible, like any other listing applicant. My own personal philosophy in running the exchange is to level the playing field, regardless of the personalities involved. The board of directors carefully deliberated [on] the listing application and approved the same after the applicant has complied with the requirements of the PSE.”

Investors ‘fully protected’

A Vista Land letter to the PSE dated June 21, 2007, tried to justify the almost simultaneous primary and secondary offering of company shares, which came about after it requested the exchange to release from escrow 3.1 billion of over 5 billion secondary shares (thus violating the 180-day coverage of the lockup undertaking for the secondary offering).

The letter said only those shares to be actually issued and offered to the public under the secondary offering shall be released from escrow and excluded from the lockup coverage.

It also said Vista Land investors shall be “fully protected” because the same secondary offering was an “organized” transaction.

But some facts remain clear: Villar, his wife Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, and the family-controlled Vista Land became at least P20 billion richer after the sale of both primary and secondary shares in July 2007.

The Villars have never hidden the fact that they made a fortune out of the public offering. They are proud of it.

The company’s 2007 annual report heralded it as “the largest public offering” undertaken by a Philippine company.

Private wish

But privately, Villar, a businessman by training, sometimes wishes that politics would be less exciting and less dangerous, a member of his staff said.

He often finds himself a bit irritable when confronted by similar attacks, the staff member said.

There was another one, according to Vista Land president Serrano, referring to a report that spread by word of mouth early in 2009 that the senator lost P6 billion as a result of the collapse of US investment banking giant Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

The report reached Villar’s camp, but Serrano and other Vista Land officials simply found it ridiculous.

“How could that be? Until the public offering, we didn’t have excess money. By the time we got the proceeds, Lehman Brothers had collapsed. We didn’t have the time to invest in it even if we wanted to,” Serrano said.

Survivor

Villar said the controversies hounding him, including Sen. Jamby Madrigal’s complaint that he personally benefited from the C-5 road link project, had hurt him.

But these are not going to kill him because in many ways, he is a survivor, he said.

Villar recalled how he resurrected his real estate empire from near-bankruptcy at the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1997—and, of course, how he rose from childhood poverty in Tondo, Manila, to become the lone billionaire in the Senate.

As of end-2008, Villar, along with his wife, had a net worth of P 1.046 billion, according to his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

In 2006, Vista Land had total revenues of P7.37 billion—proof that he was a billionaire long before Vista Land went public.

Villar became a millionaire at 27 in a real estate career that began with him selling gravel and sand.

Now 59, he is proud to say he has built a total of 250,000 houses nationwide, both low- and high-end, mostly for overseas Filipino workers who are now probably his most potent core constituency for the 2010 presidential election.

‘So solid’

Looking back, Villar said his industry and perseverance were the most important ingredient in his management style.

“I am result-oriented,” he said, citing over 30 years of hands-on knowledge and experience in business.

“So solid,” he said. Perhaps nothing can destroy him now.

But this result-oriented, hands-on managerial style seems to be getting in the way of his politics, an SEC lawyer said.

It is so strong that it can “overwhelm and overcome” the senator in him, according to the lawyer.

Where to draw the line?

“When does Senator Villar draw the line? When does his work as a businessman end and when does his work as a senator begin? When the senator personally called SEC chair Barin and Francis Lim and his board to pitch for his business interest, something was wrong somewhere,” the lawyer said.

But whether this issue is Villar’s Chappaquidick is something else. Added the lawyer: “If it can’t kill him, it can only make Senator Villar stronger. That’s politics.”