By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:08:00 10/30/2009
Filed Under: News, Politics, Elections, Eleksyon 2010, Benigno Aquino III, Loren Legarda, Manny Villar
MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. says that while Sen. Benigno Aquino III may be the most popular among the current crop of presidential aspirants, it is he who has the ability and experience of success as a self-made millionaire who is best qualified to become the next President of the Philippines and take the country out of the rut of poverty.
“The genuine poor boy from Tondo… is ready, willing and able to serve as President of the Philippines from Day One and lead our country in facing whatever storms lie ahead,” he declared at the Manila Overseas Press Club’s "Presidentiables’ Series’’ on Thursday night.
Taking potshots at Aquino’s ability to lead the nation, the billionaire from Tondo declared that he was qualified to be the next Chief Executive because of his 20 years of experience as a public servant and 30 years in the private sector, building his real estate empire from scratch.
“But all that I have achieved would be nothing if at the end of my public life I would not have been able to translate my own success into the success of our people,” said Villar, reading from a prepared text. “Which is why I find myself on the edge of striving to achieve my ultimate dreams: that of putting together all the elements of my life this far and offering it to our people as the sum total of what I as a leader am and will always be.”
His ultimate dream, he added, was “to get this country out of poverty.’’
But of Aquino, the standard-bearer of the Liberal Party who has topped the latest surveys on presidential preferences, Villar said: "The man to beat need not be the best competitor. The man to beat is the most popular, not necessarily the best.
He said the next President should hit the ground running from Day One, and not be an "OJT President" (on the job training).
“We are recovering from the economic crisis… the next President has no time to practice,” said Villar.
Villar was leading the surveys on presidential aspirants until Aquino declared last month that he was running for President.
Villar lamented that leadership and managerial competence had never been used as basis for electing a President, but “on the basis of popularity purely and on emotions.”
According to Villar, who has served as Speaker of the House and Senate president, the next President should have run an office or an institution.
“How do you show the people that you have leadership? You must at least have been elected, once in your life… you must have been selected by your peers," he said, "because if you have never been elected or selected by your peers, you have never been a president of the homeowner’s association, what makes you think you can run this country?”
He said this managerial incompetence was to blame for the mismanagement of the economy.
Villar said he earned his billions out of sheer hard work and patience unlike those born to wealth.
“When you look at me, you’re looking at Manny Villar, not looking at my father, my mother,” he said, taking another swipe at Aquino, the only son of martyred opposition Senator Benigno Jr. and the late People Power icon Corazon, who belonged to the immensely influential and powerful Cojuangco clan.
In the question-and-answer portion that followed his speech, Villar said he has rebuilt NP, which he claimed was the party that fought for the country’s political independence.
“Now, after a hundred years, this party is fighting for our economic independence. We have successfully rebuilt this party and we are all set to reclaiming the leadership of this country,” he said.
Asked about his running mate, Villar said any running mate should possess the same readiness and competence as the presidential candidate and should not be simply like a spare tire but one who can hold a Cabinet post.
When prodded, he named the environment portfolio as a crucial post amid the “weather disturbances” facing the country because of climate change.
“I love trees,” he said, claiming that he has planted about one million trees in the past 25 years.
The crowd—composed of newspaper owners and columnists, former and present government officials, businessmen and members of the diplomatic corps—took that as an allusion to Sen. Loren Legarda, who has spearheaded numerous tree-planting projects and is a strong environment advocate.
She has declared her intention to run for vice president under a “green platform,” sustainable development, agricultural modernization, good governance and climate change adaptation.
Villar replied “there are other environmentalists” when asked if he was referring to Ronaldo Puno— his last name is the Filipino word for tree— who is the interior secretary. Puno has backed out of the vice presidential race, leaving administration standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. without a running mate.
“To be fair, he (Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero) is not applying. I can work with anyone of them,” said Villar, hinting, however, that the NP was not talking with Escudero but with Legarda’s camp.
Replying to another question, Villar said he considered “every candidate as a threat,” and that survey results were fleeting.
“In April (2010) Erap (former President Joseph Estrada) might be the bigger threat,” he said.
Aquino, Villar and Estrada have consistently topped the recent surveys on presidential preferences.