Below are excerpts from Sen. Manny Villar’s exclusive interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa on #talkthursday last March 15. For the first time since he lost the 2010 presidential race, Villar talked at length about politics, President Aquino, and current events.
On the Estrada impeachment
It is very difficult to sign and impeach a president, you know when you sign an impeachment complaint against a president, you can lose everything. Historically, the Speaker has always been subservient to the President. Wala pa sa buong history ng Pilipinas puro ang Speaker, ally ng presidente iyan, parating sumusunod lang sa Presidente. I’m very proud to say na during my time, the House was independent. In fact, I think that was the only time in our history that the House showed its independence from the Office of the President.
Sabi ko nga sa trial, it’s a hundred times more difficult kasi pagka sang-ayon ka sa President na mag-impeach, alam mo na eh, sinasabi nga ni Congressman Tiangco, totoo naman iyon. May mga ganoon, mga benefits, etc. But pagkapipirma ka laban sa isang Pangulo. Ang equivalent niyan halimbawa mag-iimpeach ka kay Presidente PNoy, that is the equivalent. It’s gotta be tough.
Ressa: So if you compare both of them, what do you see lacking in this one?
Villar: Ang bilis nito eh, 2 days lang ito. 2 hours, na-signan na lahat eh. And maraming congressman nagsasabi na hindi nila nabasa, hindi nila nabasa yung complaint, pila-pila ang signing, sinabi sa kanila ang isyu, then pirmahan na.
Yung sa kay Presidente Estrada, 1 month yun eh. If you recall, nagsimula iyan sa Senate, may investigation noon. Sunod-sunod ang investigation na iyon. So pinag-uusapan talaga sa media. And then the impeachment complaint was filed. There were 2 hearings by the justice committee of the House, 2 hearings. And then dumadami na yung pumipirma.
Ressa: At some point, you were also accused of railroading it, right?
Villar: No. Number 1, I have to say also, wala pang rules noon. Walang precedence noon. Unlike ngayon, mas may precedence na kaya mas maayos na eh. Pero noon wala pa. Also, the Constitution is very clear, ‘pag meron nang 1/3, ministerial na lang ang sa Speaker. Third, yung pagkuha ng signature which is the substance of the impeachment complaint, hindi naman ‘yun ni-railroad.
Ang nirailroad lang, yung pag-deliver sa, kung meron mang railroading, I don’t think there was any railroading, yung pagdeliver ng impeachment complaint na signed na. Kumbaga messenger na lang yun eh. Ang pinakamahirap diyan ang pagpirma. Pero ibang-iba, Maria, ibang-iba. Noon talaga natanggal kami sa trabaho. Natanggal ako pagka-Speaker, natanggal ang mga pumirma doon sa pwesto nila, sa chairmanship ng mga…
Ressa: Nagalit ho ba kayo kay Sen. Jinggoy?
Villar: Hindi naman, hindi naman. I just felt I had to explain it. It was nothing personal. Parang naisip ko lang na oras na rin para malaman ng tao kasi ang laki ng sinacrifice namin noon eh parang nati-trivialize naman masyado. Ang laki naman ng nirisk namin doon, noong time na iyon. I gave up the Speakership, and then hindi ka naman sigurado noon eh na magpapalit ang Presidente. Siyempre, nakakatakot din iyan. Ako naman, I’m very proud to say, independent ako noong Speaker ako.
Independent din ako na Senate President.
I know na when I ran for the President, I was accused na Villaroyo, etc. But no. When I was Senate President, talagang kinu-question ko ang moves ni President Arroyo, maski sa Supreme Court, many times. Kaya I have never been an ally of President Arroyo when I was Senate President.
Ressa: When you were Senate President, you were actually pushed out by the Enrile bloc?
Villar: By GMA.
Ressa: And now, you have Enrile as Senate President.
Villar: I don’t think he could have pushed me without the blessings of the President then. I firmly believe that it was GMA.
Ressa: You mention the run for the presidency. Thank you for coming and speaking. I think this is the first time you’re actually talking politics after the 2010 presidential campaign.
Villar: Yeah first time kasi I don’t look at myself as a politician now. I’ll be retiring after one and a half years so hindi na ako mahilig sa mga interviews. But you now, friends so okay lang.
Ressa: This was a tough campaign. The 2010 presidential elections. You started it early. You had it planned. What lessons did you learn from that election campaign?
Villar: Well, maraming lessons iyan. But I have to mention, I started as number 7 then naging number 1 ako. And then President Cory died, bagsak na naman ako sa zero almost then halos tapos na ang eleksyon noon, at that time. But anyway sabi ko na lang, might as well run eh nandiyan na iyon eh. Kung talo, talo. But I was able to move up to first place again, very briefly. And then, the 3rd time, wala na.
But importante ang media, importante ang media. Kailangan walang bias ang media but I have to say this: biased talaga ang media noon. Yung mga issues naman raised
Against me like hindi ako mahirap, nagtinda talaga ako ng isda sa palengke. I was born in Tondo. Nagtinda ang nanay ko ng isda sa palengke. Bakit naman ako magtitinda ng isda sa palengke sa Tondo nang mayaman pala ako. And yet nilagay ng media, pinalabas na hindi daw ako mahirap.
Villaroyo daw ako. My wife even voted for her impeachment sa Congress. And pag tiningnan mo ang history ng relationship namin ni President Arroyo, hindi naman kami talaga. In fact, nung matanggal na ako na Presidente ng Senado, hindi naman kami nag-uusap noon eh. Years before the elections for 2010, hindi pa kami nag-uusap ni GMA kaya that to me is also an unfair accusation.
So yung Villaroyo, yung hindi ako mahirap, papaano naimbento iyon? Dahil sa media na nabuo iyon and yet lalong malaking kasinungalingan iyon.
Even the C5 issue. I’ve been explaining na wala namang masama doon, na hindi akin iyon, wala naman akong ginawang masama, kinuhang pera doon. It was a legitimate project. Sabi ko nga malaki pa ang Hacienda Luisita roon, 10 times. I’m not saying it’s not a legitimate project. It is in fact dahil wala namang masama sa ganoon. I’m just saying if C5 is wrong, then Hacienda Luisita is wrong. But no, pinalaki naman iyon. So pagka nakita ko ang mga ganyang issues na nagsama-sama, parang napapaiyak nga ang pamilya ko noon, ano bang nangyari? Parang napakasama kong tao. Nagsisinungaling ako, hindi pala ako mahirap. Bata pala ako ni GMA. Sabi ko, “You know sa history ng politics ko, walang makakapagsabi na bata niya ako.” Siguro lahat ng past presidents, none of them can say bata ko si Manny. I’ve always been independent.
Ressa: In that campaign, how much did you lose?
Villar: Well, ang pinakamalaking loss sa akin ang name. Yung pera, madali ang pera eh. Sinasabi ko naman, hindi ko dine-deny na may pera ako. Nai-irritate nga ako noon. Minsan iinterviewhin ako, ang haba-haba ng interview ko. The last question, paano niyo babawiin ang ginastos niyo? Tapos ang lalabas sa TV yung huling tanong na paano niyo babawiin ang ginastos niyo. Nawala na ang iba kong sinabi. But anyway, as a matter of fact now, wala na iyon, nabawi ko na through business kasi kumikita naman ang business ko. I’m very proud to say, that’s where I get my wealth, that’s where I get my money. Wala sa politics.
Ressa: And you disappeared for a long time.
Villar: Well, normally, pagka masyadong, ang isang presidential campaign, Maria, talagang very exhausting iyan. You normally will give it your best shot. You’ll give it everything you’ve got and so pagka natapos na, tahimik ka na, ayaw mo na. In fact, that’s what happened, sila Danding, sila Joe de V, sila Mitra, yung mga natalo noong araw. Biglang nawala sila sa limelight eh. Normally, gusto mo na lang manahimik eh. Ayaw mo ng magulo. Ako ganoon din ako.
Although I continued my work sa foundation eh. In fact, my wife and I started devoting a lot more time sa foundation namin.
Ressa: After everything you’ve been through, how would you describe politics in the Philippines?
Villar: Well, Maria, malalalim iyan noh kasi meron akong konting sentimyento sa establishment. Talagang hindi na makakakaahon ang mahirap sa atin eh. Paulit-ulit iyan. The very same families, sila nang sila iyan eh. Mag-ama, mag-pinsan, magkapatid, parang ganyan na lang. The same families have been running our country for the past 50 to 100 years. That’s why we have not moved forward and this will continue.
Ressa: But some people will include your family in that.
Villar: Ako pa lang ang nag-build up ng whatever we have now. My father, hindi naman. My mother, hindi naman. I cannot say meron kaming national figure na related sa akin. No, I don’t think so. Sa akin manggagaling, like my wife maybe as congresswoman, my son. But hindi ang pamilya. Hindi naman sikat ang Villar eh. Hindi naman kamukha na ang father mo ganoon.
I’m not saying masama iyan. Sa darating na panahon, maaring may madulot na maganda iyan. But I’m saying pag tininingnan mo, may mas malalim na kadahilanan kaya ang lipunan natin, hindi na makaabante. Kaya ang mahihirap talagang pahirap nang pahirap.
Magagamit natin iyan, ang anti-corruption drive, these are very, very good objectives but we should not forget yung poverty. Kasi sa tingin ko, yun talaga ang problema natin and hindi naman tayo basta-basta makakaahon because when we fight corruption, we have to make it sustainable. Kasi otherwise, pag walang economic development, you can’t sustain it eh.
Ressa: Are you more cynical?
Villar: I must say that after the elections I became more cynical but no, I resist that temptation. I always want to be idealistic. No, hindi pa naman. No, I’m still very hopeful. I would like to think I’m still idealistic and sana mag-succeed si Presidente. I wish him well. Sana mag-succeed siya for the sake of our people na naghihirap sa ngayon.
Ressa: Do you consider yourself opposition largely because you ran against the President?
Villar: Hindi naman ako nakikialam na so I cannot say I’m with the opposition but neither can I say I’m with the administration. Gusto ko sana maging irrelevant na ako. I’m saying na right now, what we did is an alternative, not an opposition. Of course, alternative using the democratic processes, not alternative na extra-constitutional. I’m just saying na right now, that’s what I noticed that, kasi ang oposisyon nagiging GMA eh and she’s very unpopular kaya parang if you criticize the President, then you are GMA.
But to be fair, it’s time also for an alternative. Hindi ako iyon ah. I’m just saying na maybe maganda din naman na may alternative na lumabas na hindi GMA. Kasi parang ngayon if you oppose, oh GMA ka. It’s not fair. There are people who have legitimate complaints, grievances, objections to the administration but they cannot say anything because they will be accused of, “Ah, so Arroyo ka” but that’s not fair. For a health democracy, we need an alternative, legitimate opposition.
Ressa: The Nacionalista Party – is that still a bloc?
Villar: It is, we have 4 senators, we have 30 congressmen, we have 10 governors and we have about 200 mayors. But let me just be clear, we’re not opposing the President. We are just saying that we are an alternative. We have our own economic program and medyo umiiba ang economic program namin sa Pangulo but then again he is the President so ang policies niya ang dapat masunod. We understand that. We are just saying we have an alternative economic program.
Ressa: Will we expect the NP senators to vote together?
Villar: We are very close. I’m not necessarily saying that we will have to vote on our own. What I can is that we are very close, we see each other, we see each other almost every week. We have meetings and as much as possible, we want to vote together but I think for something as important as this, even I as President will tell them that you follow your conscience.
Ressa: This impeachment now, what is at stake for the country in this one?
Villar: My problem there is that if I give you an answer, it might give some clue as to how I might vote but I think the President is sincere in pursuing his fight against corruption. As to whether removing Corona will be a big step towards that, as what he’s claiming, is something we have to decide.
Ressa: What if you give me a scenario?
Villar: Let me just say that those who will acquit will probably, will have the view that we are moving towards a presidential control of our institutions: the House, the judiciary, the Senate, the local governments, the executive departments, that will be the view of those who will acquit Corona.
Those who will convict CJ Corona will side with the President. It’s political and will assume that this is very important in his fight against corruption.
Ressa: Do you think the business community has taken sides on this?
Villar: The business community, they always play safe eh. They will always side with the President. Even if they’re complaining, they don’t want the President to know that they’re complaining, they always would be in the safe side.
Villar: My term will expire. I don’t know. The only thing I know of is I will be very busy with the Villar Foundation. My wife and I are very busy and we’re expanding the Villar Foundation. It has branched out. Dati ano lang kami, houses for the poor, livelihood, etc. My wife has incorporated her water lily project, environmental projects. So we have combined all of these activities so we will be very active there.
But in politics, my son is a congressman and he will run for re-election. I don’t know yet, some people are asking my wife to run for the Senate but I don’t know yet. I don’t know what her decision will be. I’ve always respected my wife and viewed her as an equal. Some people don’t believe it but she can decide to run if she wants to run. Siya ang magdedecide niyan. Of course, she will be asking for my view. But if you ask me, she is very competent. Palagay ko mas magaling pa sa akin iyan.
(At this point, Ressa reads questions from the social media)
Q: If he was elected President, what would he have done opposite to what the current administration is doing?
Villar: I will have to hit the ground running. That is something that I’ve always said and I would have tried to maintain the GDP growth rate. Poverty would have been the centerpiece of my administration. I’ve always felt that we need to maintain a 7-8% GDP growth 6 years continuously to reduce significantly poverty. When you choose this line, this objective, it doesn’t mean you will have to forego fighting corruption.
I think they can be done simultaneously. I’m not saying this because I’m criticizing the present administration because I’m not. I’m just saying that I have the experience to do it and perhaps the present administration has a different approach. But I would have done it that poverty is the centerpiece, economic growth and I feel that when you fight corruption, it can be sustained better if you’re growing at 7-8% GDP growth.
Q: Would you have allowed GMA to leave?
Villar: No. To me, it might have been earlier. Ang tagal nga eh. I’ve always said, I will let justice take its course. Kung yun naman talaga ang takbo ng justice. It’s really nothing personal pero kung yun naman ang desisyon, okay naman.
Q: How is Vista Land doing?
Villar: It’s okay, doing very well, very, very well in the past 2 years. Tinulungan ko rin naman ang mga anak ko. To forget the loss, siyempre spent time with my children. They’re managing Vistaland and wow, dramatic changes happened in the company. We’re very competitive now. We’re determined to be the leader in the industry now and everybody in the group is thinking along that line that we will be the number 1.
Q: What do you consider your biggest legacy?
Villar: It’s hard to say. You’ve been a Speaker, Senate President, presidentiable, businessman. Maybe you have to specify whether in politics or….
Ressa: Through all of it. You are in a unique position now.
Villar: I know a lot about the problems of the country and there are a lot. We must confront these problems squarely now. There are many problems and well, I would be talking further with the ano, very critical so I have to stop there. We do have a lot of problems but I offered my services and it’s fair that I was turned down and I have to accept that. And so, wala naman akong sama ng loob doon. In fact, at least it removed any guilt, whatever I do now, I know that I did offer my services to the people. So wala naman akong problem.
Some people are very selfish. They think they can help but don’t want to offer their services. I did. So okay naman ako whatever I do. I can go back to business and not feel guilty about it because I offered my services. I can go back to politics. But politics, what else will I do. I’ve experienced being Speaker, Senate President, and a presidentiable. Perhaps destiny and to be fair with our President, he probably would not have really planned for it and it just came and it’s his destiny, I can respect that.
Ressa: Watching the impeachment trial, it seems to show how difficult it is, we see the mindset.
Villar: It’s not just the mindset, it’s the system. It’s everywhere. We have allowed the system to exist and we accept it. And we have refused to do things that must be done to change it. For example, when we talk about the salaries of government officials. President’s salary, if I’m not mistaken, it’s P60,000. Justices P40,000 something like that. How? I really expect these people to be honest.
I know they should be honest but somehow the system has created all of these things. But my problem is that if everybody in the system does it and then you pinpoint somebody, that’s difficult. That might be persecution.
Ressa: What’s strange now is people in social media are saying bakit si Corona lang, bakit siya lang?
Villar: It’s, malalim iyan, Maria, I don’t think we can answer that in 30 minutes or 1 hour. It’s the system. Hindi lamang sistema iyan. Babalik tayo doon sa, well I don’t want to ano yung mga classes pero iyong mga nagpapatakbo naman talaga ng bansa natin, kaunting pamilya lang.
Ressa: We heard that the Chief Justice’s pay, what he takes home is 4 times.
Villar: I’m just saying kung ano man ang income na iyon must be the income of all the justices and the justices before them.
Ressa: Is it accepted practice like the military conversion?
Villar: I don’t want to speak for the judiciary but it’s logical to assume that.
Ressa: Is accepted practice right?
Villar: It’s wrong that’s why you have to change it. But I’m just saying your problem is how to change it. If you want to change it by pinpointing one or 2, that could be right, that could be wrong, I don’t know that’s why I listen to the trial.
Ressa: Would you have filed similar cases against the Arroyos?
Villar: Oh yes, maybe even earlier. 2 years na.
Ressa: How do you change the system?
Villar: Let me talk about why I feel that a strong economic growth can change a lot of things and it’s the only sustainable approach. Because when there’s an improvement in the economic conditions, then we can give higher salaries to people, to government employees and we can improve services, more people will give taxes.
We can provide more employment, more taxes will paid to our government, there will be a lot more income. In fact if you look at the history of countries, you can see pag dumedevelop na, mas dumadali na ang fight against corruption kasi mas well paid na ang mga judges, military, police, better paid na ang mga employees. I’m not saying you should give up. I’m just saying it’s truly difficult when you talk about these and then you don’t give a single peso increase.
Ressa: In the US industrialization, they had robber barons, the mafia, Al Capone. Law enforcement came in.
Villar: Magsasabayan na iyan eh, the police will be better paid, better equipped. I’m just saying that I’m not saying na because wala iyan, we will stop. I think the President is doing the right thing going after these people and fighting corruption. I’m with him in this fight. I’m just saying that what makes these difficult is that this is not accompanied by salary increases and better equipment at iyang mga ganyang bagay ay talagang napakahirap.
And the only way you can address this is through a much higher level of economic growth. If you look at history, halos lahat naman ng dumaan diyan ang mga countries dumaan diyan. For example, GMA is not the first president jailed in the Philippines.
Ressa: What is your position on the plan to close down embassies and consulates?
Villar: I want to know the objective kasi I’ve always felt that we should have a Department of OFWS. I am not saying we should add one more department. I’m saying we should review all of our departments now. Alisin natin ang mga irrelevant and then ang mga tao doon, ilipat natin sa bagong agency that will be more relevant. For example, when we talk about tourism, we have a Department of Tourism that’s very important but magkanong dollar lang ang pinapasok sa atin ng tourism, and ilang tao lang ang tourists natin, mga 3 million lang iyon.
But ilan ang OFWS? 10 million and 20 billion dollars. So in terms of importance, malaki-laki ang OFW and yet we don’t have a department for OFWS. If closing these embassies, if ang budget niyan pupunta sa pag-expand ng embassies in areas where there are more Filipinos then I would support that but kung sa iba naman dadalhin, hindi ako magsusupport diyan.
Ressa: Would you say that part of what stopped economic growth last year was the government’s focus on the corruption campaign? Pump-priming did not happen.
Villar: I’d rather not comment because I’d rather take the alternative than the opposition.
Ressa: You say the biggest loss was your name?
Villar: Yes definitely up to now. Masama ang loob ko talaga kasi hindi naman totoo talaga iyon eh. Some people are saying I’m corrupt. How can I possibly be corrupt? I was telling people where I got my money. I was building homes and I did a couple of IPOs where I raised my money. That’s where I got my wealth. I can explain my wealth even to iyang mga prosecution. I can explain. Business nga lang ang explanation at hindi yung sa salaries. Nasabi ko naman talaga iyan, wala lang nakiking.
Ressa: Question from Pia Hontiveros: If Sen Manny could do one great thing for the country even if he isn’t president, what would it be?
MV: It’s tough because here clearly, you need the president to do what he can reform because sometimes even the president is not enough so kung hindi ka presidente mahirap talaga if you’re just one of the senators, one of the businessmen and one of the…. Kaya ako gagawin ko na lamang sa aking foundation and think of something big. I’m thinking of something big. I don’t know yet but I’m thinking along. Something that I will be remembered for that more on the social na lang kasi reforms, you cannot do reforms if you’re not part of the government. And even the president will have a hard time.
I have to tell you that and I can understand the difficulty the President is facing. Talagang mabigat itong mga problema. To change the system is tough. That’s why I’m not saying na ang presidente hindi magaling. I’m not saying that kasi mabigat talaga. To change the system is very tough. A single thing? No, I don’t think I have a magic wand. We will just have to do our share and see how far it goes.
Ressa: The 2013 elections, how big a factor is impeachment?
Villar: Maria, maraming factors iyan. Number one is sentiments of the people, political affiliation, maraming factors iyan. It’s a political process. Yung sasabihin mo na maganda ang defense, prosecution. Yes but still hindi iyan ang magiging basis. Political ang magiging basis so even if the prosecution will fail to establish a case against the Chief Justice, it does not necessarily mean he will be acquitted.
Ressa: Last words?
Villar: I just want this trial to be viewed as fair. I don’t know how this will end, whether we will acquit or convict the Chief Justice. If we convict the Chief Justice, I hope that we will not look back to this day or this time and say it was our fault that’s why our institutions were destroyed. But on the other hand, if we acquit and the Supreme Court remains to be, assuming they’re biased, I don’t want us to be blaming ourselves because we had the chance and didn’t do it.
But what I want to happen is that gusto kong makatulog sa gabi eh, sleep every night thinking we gave it our best shot, we tried to be fair and sana ang desisyon namin will be good for the country. Either way to acquit or to convict.
Like in my first impeachment, I didn’t know how history will judge me. Right now, I don’t know how history will judge the Senate, I hope maganda. – Rappler.com
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