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2 hours in Sen. Villar’s life

Two hours of post-prandial chat  with Sen. Cynthia Villar at Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel gave us a  glimpse of what keeps the legislator on her feet – and bubbling over. She is one of  six  female senators who make us proud, her interests covering a wide range – from helping raise farmers’ incomes,  to making sure the  coconut levy fund is spent judiciously, to  cleaning up Manila Bay, converting plastics and the fastidious water lily into chairs, establishing a Wetland Park, creating farm schools, and insisting on the installation of toilet bowls in every home – among many other projects.

Vice chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, Villar said the cut in the proposed budget of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) from P4 billion in 2015 to P1.27 billion in 2016 to P1.42 billion this year will not be enough to help coconut farmers who are living below the poverty line.

She asked the country’s economic managers during a briefing of the Development Budget Coordinating Committee, “Bakit ba kayo galit na galit sa mga coconut farmers na tinatanggal natin ang budget sa kanila when they are the poorest in the Philippines? They earn only on the average, P50 a day, or P1,500 a month.”

She suggests changing the people running the Philippine Coconut Authority.” Even with the creation of the coconut Levy Trust Fund which stands at P72 billion, and a 2-percent treasury bills income at P1.5 billion a year, the amount will not suffice to fund the necessary programs that will lift coconut farmers out of poverty.”   

A source of pride for the senator, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources,  is the start of the construction of the eco-tourism facilities of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park. The park is located within the 175-hectare Las Piñas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area (LPPCEA), a bird sanctuary of both endemic and migratory species, a known breeding area of Philippine ducks,  Chinese egret, and 82 wild bird species coming from as far as China, Japan and Siberia.

The type who is not ashamed of  picking up a broom and dustpan, she led in the coastal clean up of LPPCHEA, which had been threatened by reclamation projects and poor solid waste management until the DENR cancelled the environmental clearance certificate for reclamation projects in the area.

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A project close to her heart is the improvement of the Baseco community in Tondo. Residents are engaged in mangrove tree-planting, taught  livelihood opportunities, urban farming  including aqua culture, cleanliness and sanitation (of the 10,000 houses, only 5,000 have toilets).  

She talked about the Villar family’s SIPAG farm schools in Bulacan and the Las Pinas Paranaque Bacolor area. Small start-up schools which can be used as tourism farms train interested farmers in modern methods of crop production that increase their incomes. Scholarships are partially provided by TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) to encourage serious agri entrepreneurs.

Asked if she is involved in the verbal skirmishes among her colleagues, Cynthia said her principle is not signing resolutions that cause people to be unhappy.

Cynthia is serving her second term in the Senate, following her three terms as representative of the lone district of Las Piñas.

Her keen interest in lifting the status of the impoverished is remarkable, considering that she is the richest senator in the country, based on her 2015 Statement of Asset, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of P3,500,565,480.

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I had the pleasure of meeting a new Hollywood actress – Elizabeth Frances – daughter of  Frances Antonio Yoakem, my former roommate in a boarding house in Malate. I shall be writing in a following column about this beautiful  young actress who stars in the film “The Son,” which has as a co-star the famous Pierce Brosnan. For now I’m writing about a dinner hosted in Elizabeth’s honor, by Judith Los Baños,  director of marketing communications of Marco Polo Ortigas.

It was our group of five’s first time  to have dinner at Marco Polo, a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Award winner located in Ortigas, Mandaluyong. The hotel, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Wharf (Holdings) Ltd,  is one of 14 owned or managed upscale, full-service hotels in Hong Kong, China and the Philippines. The brand is named after Marco Polo, an adventurer, a traveler, an entrepreneur and a connoisseur of culture – just as Marco Polo’s modern travelers are today.

We savored the carefully crafted dishes authored by Executive Chef  Alisdair Bletcher at Cucina on the 24th floor. The dinner buffet included Australian Stockyard Long Fed Angus Beef Rib Eye, Spanish paella, gratinated fillet of Chilean sea bass with lemon parsely crust over  wilted spinach  leaves, smoked salmon, buffalo mozzarella and arugula leaves pizza. 

Almost but not totally hidden was the cubicle with a gorgeous  spread of cheeses. But the scene stealer was the Earl Grape Iced Tea. The tea provides the base of the beverage and is poured over seedless green grapes and elderflower-infused ice cubes—and contained in a surprisingly carved glass holder. We all loved the tea only Marco Polo serves in town.

We have yet to try Marco Polo’s new offerings at its Café Pronto, a favorite café in the Ortigas business district. Its ensaymada is said to  be soft and rich and has melt-in-the-mouth goodness, what with its ham and cheese, macapuno and monggo, salted egg and salted caramel flavors.

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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