Rappler will talk to Congresswoman-elect Leni Robredo.
MANILA, Philippines - Administration senatorial candidate and former Las Piñas representative Cynthia Villar is under a lot of criticism for the answer she gave in a senatorial forum on TV.
Villar was asked why she opposed the move to close nursing schools that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said did not meet minimum requirements to continue operations.
Villar explained that she favored the students who wanted to continue their schooling.
But a portion of the senatorial bet's reply became controversial and viral. She said, "Actually, hindi naman kailangan ng nurse na matapos ang BSN (BS Nursing). Kasi itong mga nurses, gusto lang nilang maging room nurse.”
Villar apologized and wrote a letter to the Philippine Nurses Association offering her "heartfelt apology."
In this interview with Rappler, Villar said she was only given 60 seconds to answer a "complicated issue," and said she had no intention of putting down nurses.
Below is the transcript of this #PHvote interview:
Maria Ressa: Hello and welcome to #PHVote. Today we have former Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia Villar, she is a senatorial candidate with Team PNoy. She recently came under fire for comments in a debate that was held on Filipino nurses. In 2005, she opposed a move to close down nursing schools that didn't meet minimum requirements. Villar was then chairman of the house committee on high education. Good day Cynthia, thank you for coming to join us.
Cynthia Villar: Good day, yeah. I want to correct that. I did not oppose the move to close the school. I was just asking the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to make a transition so that the students will not be displaced, the teachers will not be displaced, the school will have an exit that is acceptable and then the CHED
will do its job of policing the quality of schools in the Philippones.
Resssa: Well let's talk about that, it seemed to have exploded on social media. What exactly happened? This was a senatorial debate.
Villar: No it's a forum, they ask you a question and then you answer in 60 seconds.
Ressa: One minute to respond.
Villar: Yeah, so if the question is very difficult to answer in 60 seconds, you will have a problem. That's why my answer was cut because it's more than the time limit.
Ressa: Well, the core question seemed to be that you were protecting the businesses instead of the quality of education.
Villar: No, because they gave a permit to the schools and now they are closing it. And we're asking them, how do we do the transition? What will happen to the students who have paid their tuition fee, have studied in the schools? What will happen to them? I was asking to give a certificate of what they have finished. So from that certificate, maybe they can find a job so that the money they have spent for their schooling and, uh, the time would be worthwhile naman. And then, uh, maybe there's another way, maybe the schools, since uh, the only thing that they lack is a tertiary hospital and there are no tertiary hospitals in many of the provinces, maybe they won't not teach BSN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing, but they will just offer courses that are not requiring the need for a tertiary hospital. Like, uh, courses other than a bachelor's degree, like a caregiver course or a nursing aide course or whatever. I'm not familiar with those nursing terms, but maybe that's the spirit of the ladderized system of education, where you can study for one year, get a certificate equivalent to one year's work, another year you get a certificate; and maybe find a job with those certificates. 'Cause during that time there was a boom in employment of health care people, so they can go abroad to be caregivers, to be nursing aide or whatever position.
Ressa: But again in context, during that time there was a boom. They went overseas, but there was also a controversy about the quality of the education of the nurses, correct?
Villar: Yes, we know that. That's why the CHED is doing their job. But, as I was saying, it's not that easy to just close the school. You have to consider that there are people involved…
Ressa: …in the middle of it (oo). How was it? It looked like it went viral. I remembered seeing an info graphic, a picture of you with a quote. One of the responses that you gave. How was it portrayed when you went viral?
Villar: They said that I was demeaning the nursing profession. But it was spliced. I said that if you don't finish your BSN degree, then maybe you can get a certificate wherein you can work as a, my term is a home nurse. I don't know kasi the term to use for that kinds of work.
Ressa: "Caretaker" is actually what they use in the United States.
Villar: Yes, but sometimes, they don't like that word also. So, what I… The problem with me is that I cannot think of what word to use so I used home nurse; and they were angry with that word.
Ressa: And these were nursing students and nurses that responded, right?
Villar: No. The nurses.
Ressa: This is actually an interesting follow-up question and social media, if you're not twitter please send questions, use #PHVote and @cynthia_villar. This is from @bugsy67, 'some caretakers agree that they do have the same status in the US. Why did you apologize?' I saw some of her tweets earlier, she had actually said you were misconstrued and that, so why did you apologize?
Villar: Because in the Philippines, caretakers are not nurse. That's why the nurses believe. So, maybe I made a mistake. And so it's okay for me to apologize if I have hurt the feelings of many people. Because I didn't… I'm not hesitant to apologize because I didn't mean it. I was not guilty of really demeaning or hurting the people. It's just that it's an interview that was so hard to explain in 60 seconds or 30 seconds. And I was not able to explain it well because it's a very complicated issue.
Ressa: So where do you stand on that issue?
Villar: Uh, I was for it. Because during that time, it's not anymore the problem. There are less nursing students now. So the schools, because of lack of demand, they may opt to close or change to another course. The situation is different from what happened in 2005. But during that time, i was just telling them, 'look, don't naman displace the students, displace the teachers, make a transition so that everything can, everybody can adjust to the situation.'
Ressa: The core of the question though that Winnie Monsod threw at you is that you would give preference to the concerns of the business people who ran the schools over the…
Villar: No I was just requesting the CHED to make a transition for them. Kasi, in the first place, they were the ones who gave the permit to the schools. If they don't like the schools to be like that, then why did they give the permits. If there was no permit, there was no school, there will be no problem. Before they gave the permit, they know there was no tertiary hospital there. Why did they give the permit? That's the question. So now that, in a way, they're responsible, they should make the transition so that everybody…it will be fair to everybody. So I guess it's not too much to ask.
Ressa: Yes. During a period of reform, I mean which actually there are many things we need to change in Philippine society. If you have to make a choice between business concerns and ordinary people?
Villar: It will be ordinary people, because the business concerns, they can take care of themselves. But the ordinary people, it will be hard for them, especially the poor who have nowhere to go. That's why they go to us. Nobody will protect them except us. And we do because that's our responsibility as public officials.
Ressa: Let me throw you another question. Again, this is coming in from social media. From @nylorjay, 'any fear on the effects of your recent statements on the nursing pool for the upcoming election?'
Villar: I don't know what the effect but it's okay with me because that's the risk you have to take, then you have to suffer for it. That's okay.
Ressa: This is a tough time to campaign, with social media, with a changing demographic, how are you running your campaign this time? You ran for congress and won before? Anything different?
Villar: This is a national campaign. My running for Congress is a local campaign so they are very much different. In a local campaign, everybody know you. You're familiar to everybody, they know you personally. What they know about you is the truth. You live among them. In a national campaign, all they know about you is a perception. And the perception may not be the truth. So, you have to deliver the right message to them, the right way to deliver it, so it's difficult in the national campaign and media will play a big role. In any national campaign. Whereas in a local campaign, it's a personal campaign. They know me very well. They know what I'm capable of doing. They know my real self. There will be no problem in a local campaign.
Ressa: So what does Cynthia Villar stand for?
Villar: I would like to be remembered as the woman who built the most number of livelihood projects in the Philippines. If I'm able to do it.
Ressa: Do you have a track record of doing this?
Villar: Yeah, yeah. I built livelihood projects in my barangay during my nine years in Congress. Every barangay, different livelihood projects. And all my livelihood projects, the raw materials are waste. It's processing of waste, finding technology to process waste. And so, all I have to give them are the machineries they will use and the training to use the machineries; and they don't have to spend for raw materials because the raw materials are waste. So everything they earn is out of their labor, no other things needed to complete the production.
Ressa: Fantastic. Again, an interesting question from social media, from @krstngonzaga, 'she does livelihood projects, how will she translate this to legislation, what law will she offer?' How will you translate livelihood projects to laws?
Villar: I think, as of now, the livelihood projects I can do even without legislation. The part of legislation there will be the budget, because when you have a budget, it's still…in the Philippines it's legislation because you pass the national budget. It's just my effort and the technology that will come with it. What we need in legislation is the creation of jobs, because that you have to pass legislation that will give incentive to business that will create jobs for the Filipinos. That's when you need legislation. You have to find those businesses, give them whatever incentives, tax break or whatever, many kinds of incentives, so that they will build their factories here or there business here and those businesses and factories will employ people. That you need legislation 'cause those are taxation and other incentives. And, another would be in agriculture, after all is said and done, I think 70% of the Philippines is dependent on agriculture so you have to make legislation in agriculture help farmers achieve productivity and the ability to compete with foreign agricultural products and those being smuggled into the country. So. that's what you have to do. But in my livelihood projects, I think I will need the budget, but that's all. I don't have to get incentives or things like that for my livelihood projects. It's a model. I build small factories, benefitting 50 families in a small community where they don't have to pay for transportation costs. So they can be with their children. Community based. So, it's a good model.
Ressa: What's interesting now is that this is a good time for the Philippines. We're doing well economically. Everyone is saying that the trickle down factor is still so low.
Villar: Because the kind of investments that come to the Philippines are not long term. You need long term investment which will build businesses that will employ people. The kind of investment now, many of them in the Stock Market, they're short term. They come and go. They don't really give employment to the rest of the country. So, we're looking at long term investments.
Ressa: You come from a political family. What have you learned that you are now putting…obviously the community development livelihood projects…what lessons do you take now going forward?
Villar: I've always believed that if you do a good job, and you're sincere in it, then you will be successful and people will like you naturally. You don't really have to exert a lot of effort for them to like you. You just have to do it with the job you do in your political career.
Ressa: But do you still think the same way, given what's happened with this answer from the debate.
Villar: It's not politics in general, maybe some people are taking advantage of this. But this is one single affair that should not discourage you, because if you get discouraged with this single affair then all your advocacies will go down the drain. And they will be happy because they have destroyed you.
Ressa: Well let's go back to the nursing. We pulled up during Obama's state of the union address, there was a Filipina nurse, Menchu Sanchez, and she also said on her Facebook took offense at that one quote. If we can pull that up, the quote by Menchu Sanchez, she said this, 'ang twas na ng pagtingin ng mundo sa agin, naitaas na nation eh, tapes binababa naman niya. Talagang na hurt talaga ang mga nurses, ang wabi ko nag everybody has their own mind, masasabi niya kahi among gusto niyang sabihin perl tayo meron tayo may magagawa tayo, ang dapat naming gain, yung mga ganung tao hindi nation nilalagay sa presto.' How do you respond to Menchu Sanchez?
Villar: It was a wrong message. I was misunderstood.
Ressa: Actually that was very clear when you look at the video clip.
Villar: Yes. So, maybe that's the way they understood it but it's not my message. I was just enabling those who will be displace by the school closure to get a certificate so they can work in some health related facilities that doesn't need a BSN degree. I'm not putting down the nurses, I'm just saying that those who are unable to graduate getting a BSN degree should be given a chance to work in lesser positions but, they can still work in health related facilities.
Ressa: So the irony actually was that you were trying to create opportunities for…
Villar: …for those who didn't finish their BSN, kaya lang nacut yung messaging, so they misunderstood it. Iba na ang messaging pay-dating sa manila.
Ressa: From @missliberalako: Moving on from this, what can you do from here on out to help the future of Pinoy nurses?
Villar: I have talked with them. In fact, they said this is a blessing in disguise to a nursing association here in the Philippines, they said that maybe God made this opportunity so that I can help them daw. I can meet them and help them. So we're doing…aside from the legislation that they want me to spouse when I, if ever, I get to the legislature… we're doing a project yung 'Ang Nurse Clinic.' They want to do it and I volunteered that I will do the pilot project for this. They said that they have tried this in Leveriza, Pasay and University of the Philippines is the one in charge of this. They did a pilot project in Leveriza, Pasay and it's clinic and it's quite successful so maybe we can look at it and do it in other places so that those nurses, kasi may over supply tayo ng nurses and employed in this kind of clinic. But in this clinic, they are entrepreneurs. They are not anymore employed. They will be managing a clinic of their own. And I said that maybe we should do a pilot project and try it and if it's successful then we can duplicate it in many places in the Philippines.
Ressa: Interesting. This is also a good question to you from @royousarellano: You have a very good cause, livelihood, which you have successfully run through hundreds of communities nationwide. Why gun for a Senate seat?
Villar: I thought a senate seat will give me a stature to promote it nationally.
Ressa: But the jobs are different.
Villar: In what way?
Ressa: As a senator you'd be creating laws, you wouldn't necessarily be…
Villar: No, no. In the Philippines you can do both. You do both.
Ressa: So you can continue with the work…
Villar: I can continue. When I was a congresswoman I do very good legislative work but I have established livelihood projects in all of my barangays. So, you can do both. Kasi if you want really to help people, some people they don't even know what you're doing in your legislation. But when you do community work, they understand. So you have to do both to please your constituency.
Ressa: So actually you're saying you wanna go bottom-up, top-down.
Ressa: That's interesting, that's what we want to do. An interesting question again. Questions are coming from social media. From @edsayson: Ano opinion ninyo sa paglikha ng trabaho dito sa Pinas, at sending workers abroad.
Villar: Alam mo yung sending workers abroad. I would like to think it's temporary. I mean, it might not be a wish that may not happen but I'm wishing that our overseas Filipino workers will come back and, when there are job opportunities in the Philippines and we should create those job opportunities. What we are doing now, Ressa, is we have a project. We call it the OFW and family summit with Go Negosyo every November and what we do there is we invite the families of OFW and then we ask those companies that are doing business or selling businesses, small businesses to ordinary people like yung mga distributorship, transportation business, yung mga franchise na maliliit, yung mga ganun to be there and answer questions from the people who will be attending who are mostly families of OFW. Usually attendance naming 5,000 e. And then we ask people naman na expert in managing small business to lecture on how you manage a small business. So it's an opportunity for them to find business opportunities with the right people and we the right teachers. So every year we do that thinking that in the end many of our OFW families will be able to establish small businesses and if they are successful maybe in the future their loved ones won't have to go back abroad.
Ressa: Actually that's critical. The APEC SME summit that they just recently had. They said up to 80% of growth should come from small and medium enterprises but there aren't enough. The other thing that I found fascinating is that the middle class is going overseas. How can we grow, we develop if our best and brightest continue to go overseas.
Villar: That's why we want to reverse that but you know, it's a natural thing. You cannot just legislate that you come back.
Ressa: If there are no opportunities why would they?
Villar. Yes, so we have to do something that in the future they will come back. Reverse migration.
Ressa: You talked about OFWs. This was your husband's, your husband also. How do you get away from under his shadow?
Villar: You know, I would say that he has a different career path altogether from me. Like for example when he was a congressman he was speaker of the house. That's an admin work. And when he was senator he became a senate president. Me naman when I was congresswoman I became the president of lady legislators and we worked for the legislation that benefit women and children and family. Parang has lesser but as important. And I went to committee work like I was chairman of the committee on higher and technical education. So you can see, iba yung path namin. But I wouldn't say that my path is not as good as his. It's different and maybe I had more time because when I was managing a big organization I was also able to devote time in my district and establish this livelihood projects in all my barangays. In the end, you can never say that he did better than me.
Ressa: I wouldn't say that. Never underestimate the power of a woman.
Villar: Maybe we did well. Both of us did well in a different way.
Ressa: But right now when you say Villar, most people will automatically think the man Villar. How will you change their minds so they start thinking Cynthia Villar.
Villar: I don't mind being Mrs. Cynthia Villar. I don't mind. Some people are defensive but I'm not that kind of person. I can be appreciated for what I'm doing. I don't have to insist that I'm better than my husband.
Ressa: Interesting. What's important to you? When you look at the country today, what do you want to accomplish?
Villar: I want to, when I die I want to be remembered as someone who has made a difference in this country even in her small way.
Ressa: Oh, but congresswoman or a senator is actually not in a small way.
Villar: But that's what I want. I want to be remembered for my livelihood projects rather than be remembered as a senator or a congresswoman kasi yung senator and congresswoman marami pang bad ano, bad things associated with that position. But being remembered as one who has built the most livelihood projects in the Philippines parang walang bad association yun di ba?
Ressa: Mrs. Villar your tearing, what's making your eyes tear?
Villar: Ah, no, no, maybe.
Ressa: Okay, I was just going, "What did I ask?"
Villar: No, no. I have eye defect.
Ressa: Let me ask you, your son is a representative in Congress now. There's a lot of talk about political dynasties. Your not a dynasty yet but it's actually your family who has the most political background. What's your position on families having inordinate power.
Villar: How do you define dynasty? Senator Miriam Santiago endorsed me and said I don't fall in the definition of dynasty because the bill she filed in Congress, you're allowed if you're seeking a national… one is seeking a national position and one is seeking a local position - that's not a dynasty, it's not in the same arena. He said that if you are seeking, one family is seeking a position in one place then that's a dynasty. So, we have to define what is a dynasty. As for me, if they say that this is illegal, it's okay with me if they don't allow me to run. I mean, you know, you just make a career for yourself. It can be in the private sector, it can be in the public sector, it depends on the times. So we should not be definite on what we want to do. We should adjust to the situation. And I will adjust to the situation.
Ressa: Interesting. Politics has taken a toll on your family. I saw senator Villar before, after the 2010 elections. It was a tough time. How do you look at politics today? Obviously, you're running now for a national position.
Villar: We have talked about the 2010 elections after the election and we talked about it long and I said to Manny that, God has given us so much, if he didn't give you the presidency, that's alright. He cannot give you everything. And if you ask me what is the most difficult time in the lives of Manny and I, I would say that 1997 crisis more than the defeat in the 2010 elections.
Ressa: Because your business was actually at risk at that point.
Villar: That's a lifetime's work. Politics is public service. If the people don't like you anymore then it's okay. You can go to another field. It's not permanent. It depends on the will of the people, so you should not make it a permanent career. If the people don't like you anymore then you should stop.
Ressa: It's a tough time now to be a politician. We saw it during the proclamation rally. You're talking to a mass-base and yet you're also talking to your very cynical ABC 1, yes you guys on social media, you're among the most cynical. How are you gonna deal with these different audiences that are simultaneous? How does a candidate deal with it now?
Villar: I think if you are in a really and you're audience are just the simple people or not so sophisticated people then you have to talk in their language. Something simple that they can understand, that they can related to. Now if you're talking to Maria Ressa, that's different. So you have to know how to adjust and gauge your audience. You have to relate to the audience whatever it is.
Ressa: But the difficulty is that the audiences are now simultaneous. Is this Pinoy, this new, younger demographic that's going to, that you're asking to vote for you. Is this different from the past, is there a change, do you see change happening among Filipino voters?
Villar: It's not so difficult for me because I came from a constituency in Metro Manila. Metro Manila constituency is really difficult in the first place. So I have adjusted to that kind of constituency so it's not hard for me to adjust to this new constituency. Maybe the one's coming from the provinces, they will find it hard to adjust but for me being a representative from Metro Manila, this is really the kind of constituency that we have.
Ressa: As a politician today, you know, we look at the political parties, again your husband ran opposite Noynoy Aquino, now you're running his ticket. Political parties don't seem to really work. How do you look at them and how will this affect if you were to win, you're running on the team PNoy slate.
Villar: I don't think so, this is a coalition, so it's not losing the identity of the party. We have a policy in our party and an advocacy in our party: "Ang bayan higit sa lahat." and we tend to be more nationalistic than international in outlook. So we have a difference with other parties, but in other coalition, coalition are temporary. You go together if you have the same advocacy. I know naman the advocacy of the president is, matuwid na dawn or anti-corruption, and that's our advocacy also. So, there's no conflict there. And my advocacy is hanap-buhay and that's one of his advocacies also because he's saying that he wants to alleviate poverty and that's one way of alleviating poverty so there's no conflict, I think. I don't find any conflict with him nowadays, maybe in the future, in certain stands, in certain issues. But as of today, yung anti-poverty, anti-graft, and economic development, we're one in that so I don't find any problem now.
Ressa: I'm going to toss you 2 last questions from social media. This is one that came up from @NJmaldito: Give us a smart plan, once seated in senate, about your vision to have hanep-buhay. How?
Villar: On my end, I have promised that I will… there are 1,600 towns and cities in the Philippines. I have built more than 100 now and I intend to build that to go to that 1,600 and build livelihood projects there. I may not finish it but I will try. That's my commitment.
Ressa: How long did it take you to build 100?
Villar: 2 years. 50 a year. Maybe I can do it faster in the future.
Ressa: I like the bottom up. @MannyGasal: How would you address the issues of poverty and corruption in our country today?
Villar: I think when you want a, you are working on an advocacy of anti-corruption, you should not be corrupt. It's role modeling. And at the same time you have to make the salaries of government workers competitive wherein those salaries will enable them to bring their family up decently. Because you cannot ask them not to be corrupt if the salaries they're making are not even enough to feed their family. That's too much to ask. And I think it will come with economic development. Then people, there will be plenty of jobs for people. Some of the government employees will transfer to the private sector and less people will be left in government kasi nga yung parang employment agency ang government and then you divide the resources of government to less people which can work naman efficiently. Then you can give them good salaries then you can tell them not to be corrupt because they're earning enough to bring up their families decently.
Ressa: At the same time though, Mrs. Villar, your husband has had charges of corruption also. How do you deal with things like that?
Villar: The most important charge that was hurled against him is C5. That C5 project started and they wanted to get our land to pass through. Manny went to the Department of Justice to ask if it's okay that the government will buy his land considering that he's a senator of the Philippines. And the DOJ made an opinion, written, that it's okay but he will pay the assessed value of the property, not the market value. The market value of that property then, about 12 years ago, was 160 million. The evaluation was 92. Yung 92 and ibabayad sa kanya, but up to now, that 92 hasn't been paid. And now, we are the one's at fault. Is it our fault? They made that opinion. And that investigation was declared illegal by the Supreme Court after elections. They didn't make a finding in the senate during the committee hearing. They did not make a final finding, so there's no record in the senate of that investigation so how can we not say that can't run on the basis of matuwid na daan? We didn't do anything. It's political. So, and that's politics. Just like what's happening to me right now, it's politics and we want to be politicians so we have to accept the fact that that's part and partial of politics.
Ressa: For Filipinos now, how do they vote smart? What should they be looking for? Why should they vote for you?
Villar: They should, the problem is, for you to vote smart they should know the candidates better. And it's impossible in a national election to know the candidate better. It is a matter of perception. So what they can do is to look deeply. In the record, hindi lang just so you like the look of the person, you will vote for that person but I think it's too much to ask considering the demographics of the Philippines but I'll just say that maybe we should just wish that in the future it will be like that. But I think today it's too much to ask.
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