Tuesday, March 10, 2009


After the so-called Genuine Opposition senatorial team won over the so-called Team Unity in the 2007 elections, the Senate would have been composed of ten members aligned with the administration, namely, Senators Angara, Arroyo, Pia Cayetano, Defensor, Enrile, Gordon, Honasan, Lapid, Revilla and Zubiri. The so-called opposition counted 12, namely, Aquino, Biazon, Alan Cayetano, Escudero, Estrada, Lacson, Legarda, Madrigal, Pimentel, Roxas, Trillanes, and Villar. Pangilinan ran as an independent and won, but he was aligned with Manny Villar, and was a member of the Liberal Party likewise, so that with him, the opposition counted on 13 members. That magic number was enough to clinch the leadership of the chamber. But since Trillanes was (and still is), in prison, getting Pia Cayetano who ran as Lakas to switch sides would clinch it.

In terms of seniority as oppositionist, and to “level the playing field” in the words of Mar Roxas, the first caucus proposed to support Nene Pimentel for the presidency of the Senate. But early on, it was clear that Nene was not too keen on the post, and that Alan, Kiko and Chiz were for Manny Villar. But without a by-your leave from his oppositionist colleagues, Villar had quietly sewn up the support of the other side. He dealt with the administration’s ten, and with himself, Alan, Chiz and Kiko, he had the magic number – 14. Realizing that electing Pimentel was a losing proposition, and even if they were resentful of Villar’s quick transaction with the other side, Lacson, Legarda, Madrigal and Roxas protested, and asked former President Estrada to mediate, so as to preserve so-called “opposition” unity. They asked him to prevail on Villar to consolidate the opposition with him as Senate President, and leave the administration bloc where they ought to be, in the minority, minus Pia who is Alan’s elder sister.

But Estrada could not get Villar to reconsider his earlier-closed deals. Instead, he proposed to have Jinggoy, Erap’s son, as his pro-tempore, upping his numbers to 15, and leaving Pimentel, Lacson, Legarda, Madrigal, Roxas, Biazon, Aquino and Trillanes in the cold. By getting the younger Estrada, he got the father’s blessing. Villar’s skin-shedding from administration Lakas to administration Lammp, to administration Nacionalista allied with GMA, and then as part of the “opposition” was now completed --- certified by Erap, mismo. When would he next shed skin?

Lacson, together with this writer and another, journeyed in the middle of one summer night to Erap’s sprawling villa in Tanay, and over dinner, the atypical Lacson, who naively thought there ought to be some honour among politicians, told the elder Estrada that the public, and media would not look kindly at how Villar transacted with the other side. Estrada’s reply flustered Lacson. “Sabi ni Manny, media play lang ‘yan”.

And Villar was politically right. His “media play” succeeded in short shrift to picture the other “presidential moist-eyed” --- Roxas, Lacson, Legarda, the “villains”. And his sleeping with the enemy was deemed acceptable. When after C-5 and double insertion discoveries, Villar lost the Senate presidency last November, losing the same administration allies he earlier transacted with, the same guys who judged it perfectly okay for Villar to bed with the administration senators, now protested the “break-up” and the “marginalization” of the opposition. “Media play lang ‘yan” --- that famous Erap quote of Villar, rankled in my mind.

You hardly see Villar in the Senate session hall these days. He is busy moving around, doing his pre-campaign, something his handlers chorused as the “liberating” effect of his losing the Senate presidency. He forgets he is senator yet. He already feels like “president”. Meanwhile, he has spent a sizeable fortune on advertising in tri-media, particularly television. Very obviously, he has so much money. Let’s discuss the provenance some other time. Fact is, for all to see, he has so very, very much money.

In a Reuters interview that broke into print last week, he was quoted as saying that “there is one golden rule --- he who has the gold rules”. He would parlay his “entrepreneurial acumen and experience as a politician…as vital assets in leading the nation”, the report stated. The same report puts his family’s assets at a billion dollars.

“The next president of this country…should on day one know how to manage this country --- day one”, harrumphed Villar according to Reuters. But of course, 7107 islands is one huge chunk of real estate put together.

And the real estate magnate indeed had multiplied his wealth several times over at about the same time he was a congressman for nine years (two and a half of which as Speaker of the House), thence passed on to his better half of the dynasty, now completing another round of nine years. He has also been senator for eight years, on four or so of which he was the Senate President and four as powerful Chair of the Finance Committee, during which the money kept multiplying. Maybe it is entrepreneurial acumen.

“I believe that while a lot of us will be announcing our candidacies, in the end there will be just a few who will remain”, Villar told Reuters. Why so?

“If you can’t even raise one billion pesos, why even run?”, Villar declared.. And the right honourable Manuel Villar has billions. Oh yes.

The Reuters story said that Villar “wants to use lessons gained while running his business and reviving it from near total failure during the (1997) Asian crisis to boost the local economy and uplift the poor”.

It may be sheer coincidence that reviving his fortunes, and more, in the aftermath of the Asian crisis, came handily after he got Erap to crown him Speaker of the House in 1998, and thence, as senator from 2001 with GMA’s benediction, immediately becoming the chair of the committee that has power over the nation’s budget.

He consolidated those assets in a conglomerate called Vista Land, and sold shares in the stock market, the initial public offering of which, his acolyte Alan Cayetano boasted on the floor of the Senate, raised him billions upon billions. With the new crisis upon us, this time American-made, I wonder how much those who bought such shares have lost. I no longer watch the stock market.

But, undoubtedly he has billions, not just a billion. And he thinks anyone who does not have as much need not run, need not even dream of serving the Filipino people as their president.

Pera-pera lang ‘yan.

Like advertising all over, pera-pera lang ‘yan. Like buying the loyalties of local candidates all over, pera-pera lang ‘yan. Just like media play lang ‘yan. Pera-pera din ba?

“How sad”, rival Loren Legarda observed.

“Ibig ba n’yang sabihin, kung wala kang pera ay huwag ka ng mangarap na makapaglingkod bilang pangulo ng ating bansa? Nakalulungkot pong isipin na paliliitin natin ang usapin ng paglilingkod sa bayan sa isyu ng pera. Pera-pera na lang ba ang eleksyon? Talaga bang ang tingin nya sa taong bayan ay mukhang pera? Pwera na ba ang pagmamahal sa bayan? Pwera na ba yung uri ng leadership na ibibigay mo? Pwera na ba yung vision para sa kinabukasan ng ating bansa? Basta may pera, pwera na ba ang lahat?”, the lady senator asks.

Well, dear Loren, and you too, Ping, Mar or whoever; never mind Chiz who probably has the San Miguel billions and the port monopoly billions, and whoever else’s behind him --- that’s exactly how Manny Villar defines the politics of this nation.

A friend of mine, who will perhaps run for senator, or congressman, or whatever else under Villar’s banner recently boasted --- “yung iba naghahanap pa ng pera, pero kami sa Nacionalista, sobra-sobra, andyan na”.

Pera-pera lang ‘yan. That is the politics of Manny Villar, declared with pride and absolute candor.

And we dare dream of change after the 2010 elections?


Anonymous said...

Agree. If Villar wins, it will be more of the same. It's not the time for "business as usual" or "politics as usual." Manny should NEVER be the president of this country!