By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:41:00 10/31/2009
Filed Under: Politics, Elections, Eleksyon 2010
MANILA, Philippines - If, as Sen. Manuel Villar says, he considers “every candidate as a threat,” then Sen. Benigno Aquino III must be a very big threat indeed.
At the Manila Overseas Press Club’s “Presidential Series” forum on Thursday night, the Nacionalista Party presidential candidate presented himself to the assembly as possessing all the desired qualities of a presidential candidate that, he implied, the Liberal Party’s Aquino did not.
He 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.
“I’m not perfect. I have a lot of failures in life, I have experienced difficulties. But when you look at me, you are looking at Manny Villar, what you see is what you get. You’re not looking at my mother, my father or the tycoon behind me. You are looking at Manny Villar,” he said.
“The man to beat need not be the best competitor. The man to beat is the most popular, not necessarily the best. But you could also be the best of course,” Villar said.
Aquino, the son of the martyred opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. and the late President Corazon Aquino, is the perceived front runner, having topped the latest presidential preference surveys.
Villar was leading all the surveys until the younger Aquino, heeding a popular call to take up the work of his revered parents following the death of his mother in early August, declared last month that he was running for President.
With his every statement expressing his disdain for the young Aquino’s ability to lead the nation, Villar declared that with him at its head the Nacionalista Party, the country’s oldest political party, was all set to reclaim the presidency in 2010.
The self-made billionaire from Tondo declared that he was qualified to be the next president because of his 20 years experience as a public servant and 30 years in the private sector building his real state empire from scratch.
Villar said the next President should hit the ground running from Day One, and not be an “OJT” (on the job training) president.
“We are recovering from the economic crisis … the next President has no time to practice,” he said.
He lamented that leadership and managerial competence were never used as the basis for electing a president.
“Leadership is important because there are so many institutions in this country. You must be able to persuade all these institutions to move towards one direction, without declaring martial law,” he said.
According to Villar, a former Speaker of the House and Senate President, the country’s 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.
“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.
Veep not spare tire
Villar made it clear that his running mate should possess the same readiness and competence as the presidential candidate. The vice president should not be a spare tire but also capable of holding a Cabinet post, he said.
He said the NP had formed a committee to select the vice-presidential candidate.
He said the environment portfolio was a crucial post because of the “weather disturbances” facing the country as a result of climate change.
“I love trees,” he said, claiming that he had planted about one million trees in the past 25 years.
The audience—composed of newspaper owners and columnists, former and present government officials, businessmen and members of the diplomatic corps—took this to mean that he was alluding to Sen. Loren Legarda, an environmental crusader and declared vice-presidential candidate in search of a presidential running mate.
He said he has not talked to Sen. Francis Escudero, another presidential aspirant who is presumed to be available for a vice-presidential draft after bolting the Nationalist People’s Coalition earlier this week.
“To be fair, he [Escudero] is not applying. I can work with anyone of them,” Villar said.
As for the corruption allegations against him in connection with the C-5 road extension project in Parañaque, he said he was glad that “all the witnesses” summoned by the Senate committee of the whole agreed that there was no diversion, overpricing or double insertion of funding.
As for how he intended to handle the allegations against President Macapagal-Arroyo and her family if he is elected, he said: “I will not lift a finger to defend the Arroyo family. I will let justice take its course.”
Erap a threat
Villar believes deposed President Joseph Estrada, another presidential aspirant, might be the bigger threat as the elections near.
He said survey results were fleeting and considered “every candidate as a threat.”
Aquino, Villar and Estrada, in that order, have consistently topped the most recent surveys on presidential preferences.
Villar defended his “infomercials” which are seen as boosting his popularity which is heavily dependent on radio and television ads.
“The infomercials merely mention what I have done. Nothing there was untrue. For example, that I was born in Tondo, that I used to sell shrimps,” he said.
The way he sees it, the infomercials are just his way of leveling the playing field.
“I’m up against people who have been in the show biz for a long time, either married to, related to or an actor himself. I think it is very important to inform the people who you are, what your experience is, what you are capable of doing and why you can run this country better,” he said.