Sen. Manny and Mrs. Cynthia Villar: Meant For Each Other

- Ricky Lo -

Valentine Special

It’s 2:30 Sunday afternoon, a week before Valentine’s Day.

Sen. Manny Villar and his wife, former Las Piñas Congresswoman Cynthia Aguilar-Villar, both in flaming red since they just came from the taping of the Valentine episode of TV5’s Cocktails, arrive holding hands at their Mandaluyong mansion, bought for an undisclosed amount from the Laurels (later including the big house next door where the late Vice Pres. Doy Laurel and wife Celia Diaz-Laurel lived for years with their children).

It’s a huge un-lived-in house and the Villars, whose residence is in Las Pinas City, drop by only every now and then. They’re here today only for the pictorial-interview.

“They don’t sleep here,” volunteered a member of the Villar staff. “The three big rooms upstairs have never been slept in.” (The Villars must be good bosses. Proof is that their employees, including the three lady staffers who attend to us, have nothing but praises for them.)

The receiving room has two sala sets. In one nook, at the foot of the winding stair leading to the second floor, is a piano that is never, if ever, played. The walls are covered with hand-painted floral artwork. Near the entrance, a portrait of Manny’s dominates a wall, signed Celia Diaz-Laurel. “She gave it to me as a gift,” said Manny.

They sit down at the long dining table for a late lunch, a simple lunch — clubhouse sandwich for Cynthia and chicken with white rice for Manny, with fried tilapia on the side (“My favorite,” he says). Dessert was sugar-free ice-cream and fruits (cherries, grapes, bananas, etc.). Cynthia, a diabetic (on oral medication but not insulin-dependent), says that she’s careful with her diet.

The couple has three well-brought-up children: Paolo, 35; Mark, 33, incumbent Las Piñas Congressman; and Camille, 26, all business graduates.

Over that simple lunch, Conversations leads the couple down memory lane. Married for “44 years” (you’ll find out why it’s in quotation marks in a while), they are as loving as ever. During the pictorial, it isn’t hard to make them look lovingly at each other’s eyes. How sweet! After all these “44 years,” what keeps their marriage strong and stable, untainted by not a hint of scandal (unlike the marriage of most celebrities, political or showbiz)?

How do you usually spend Valentine?

Cynthia: We just go out. This time, we are hosting a concert in our mall in Las Pinas, with Robert Seña and his wife Isay Alvarez as stars. I told Manny, “We should watch so the people could see us together.”

Don’t you have private moments together?

Cynthia: Our private moments are during Christmas and New Year when the whole family go abroad and stay there for two to three weeks. That has been a family tradition for 25 years.

How often do you say “I love you!” to each other?

Cynthia (Joking): Hindi na yata!

Manny (Also joking, addressing Cynthia): Uso pa ba sa atin ‘yan?

Cynthia (Seriously now): What counts is not what you say but what you do. Sasabihin mo ngang “I love you!” every day pagkatapos lolokohin ka, eh di, balewala rin ‘yon.

(To Manny) Do you still give Cynthia perhaps flowers or chocolates even if there’s no special occasion?

Manny: Basta ako, standard lang, it’s always flowers. It’s not anymore material things. I give her flowers even if there’s no special occasion.

The Villars are as lovey-dovey as ever, 37 years after they got married in a simple Christian wedding with only 60 guests because they were scrimping.

(To Manny) What is Cynthia’s favorite flowers?

Manny: Gusto n’ya ‘yung nagtatagal.

Cynthia: Orchids, especially. Kapag birthday ko or Valentine’s.

What about your wedding anniversary…how do you celebrate it?

Cynthia: Usually with the family. We were married on Sept. 13, 1975; we were both 25. We are celebrating our 37th anniversary this year.

Manny: For the longest time, we’ve been spending Valentine’s with the family.

Cynthia: But then, they have their own Valentine’s, so kaming dalawa na lang ni Manny.

Do you have little fights or arguments like any typical couple?

Manny: Mayroon din naman, paminsan-minsan.

Cynthia: Not about ourselves. We argue about issues.

Manny: Not about politics…rarely about business.

You are partners not only in love and in business. (Aside from the Villar Foundation, the couple manage their housing business. One is the Camella Homes for low-income families, the second Lessandra for middle-income families and the third is the upscale Brittany.)

Manny: Yes, we are partners but what we do is that, ‘yung area na mina-manage n’ya hindi ko mina-manage. ‘Yung mina-manage ko naman hindi n’ya mina-manage. We try to reduce the areas of friction. My area is housing and her area is malls. But we do compare notes.

The Villars at their ‘un-lived-in’ Mandaluyong mansion, with artistically hand-painted walls, on one side of it hangs a painting of Manny done by Celia Diaz-Laurel, and a piano that has never been played

Cynthia: We help each other but in the end I decide for myself and he decides for himself. I have the final say in my area and he has the final say in his area.

So you don’t fight about, well, third parties?

Cynthia: Walang ganoon.

Manny: We understand each other. Siya ang unang girlfriend ko.

Cynthia: One and only. If you ask him how long we’ve been married, he would say, “44 years!” I would remind him, “Manny, don’t say that baka akalain nila ang tanda-tanda na natin.” Kasi before we got married, we went steady for about seven years.

You were campus sweethearts, right?

Cynthia: We were classmates at UP; we graduated together. We both took up a business course. We were like barkada.

Were you scholars at UP?

Cynthia: No, we were not. At that time, mura ang tuition fee sa UP…P167 per semester.

Manny: I was a working student. I helped my mom sell fish in Divisoria. We were poor talaga.

Cynthia: Ang family namin upper-middle class. My father, Dr. Filemon Aguilar, was then mayor of Las Piñas. (Her brother, Vergel Aguilar, is the incumbent Mayor of Las Piñas City. —RFL)

How did the courtship start?

Cynthia: We started as friends. As young people would say, mag-MU kami, Mutual Understanding.

Paano nanligaw si Manny?

Cynthia: Mabait ‘yan. My parents liked him because bukod sa mabait, he’s hardworking. We were living in Las Piñas and he was living in Tondo, and yet he would visit me at home. At that time, ang layo n’un; para kang pumunta sa probinsya.

Manny: So I was happy when we were at UP because we would see each other every day. At that time, before I started visiting her at home after graduation, I didn’t have an idea where Las Piñas was.

Cynthia: We were in the south and he was in the north. At that time, Las Piñas was small time, very simple, wala pang mga malls.

Uso noon ang theme-song/theme-song. Did you have any?

Cynthia: We had none.

Paano kayo nagdi-date?

Cynthia: We watched movies. Si Manny kasi mahilig manood ng sine at kumain ng siopao na binibili n’ya sa Kowloon House. At that time kasi, he was already working in Makati.

Manny: And she was then already teaching at FEU. We would go out on a date after work, ang baon namin sa sine ‘yung matamis na saging. It’s still my favorite.

Cynthia: We would watch movies at Odeon, Universal, Avenue, State, Galaxy, Ever and other theaters in Recto and Avenida. All those theaters are gone. How sad, ‘no?

What kind of movies did you watch?

Cynthia: I was fond of action movies and Manny liked comedy. Dolphy was his favorite. Sometimes, we would watch action movies together and sometimes comedy. Or we would compromise.

(To Cynthia) How did Manny propose to you?

Cynthia: Wala lang; bigla na lang.

Manny: It just happened.

(To Cynthia) Did he give you an engagement ring?

Cynthia: No. Wala ngang pera ’yan, eh!

If Manny didn’t have money, who paid for your dates?

Cynthia: Siya!

Manny: Tipid na tipid kami noon.

How did you start your business?

Cynthia: We started our business with P1,000 in 1975 after our marriage. Many people don’t believe that that was our capital. Manny worked at a loaning company kaya alam n’ya kung paano kumuha ng loan na mababa ang interest. We used the P1,000 as down payment for a truck kasi we delivered gravel and sand to builders of houses. That’s how we got the idea of building houses.

(To Cynthia) You stood as one of the principal sponsors at the recent wedding of Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo and Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad. What were you thinking while you watched Shalani march down the aisle?

Cynthia: Sa panahon ngayon, magastos magpakasal.

Manny: Our wedding was very simple. There were only 60 people present, mostly members of her family and my family. We had only one pair of sponsors.

Cynthia: Nagtipid kami, baka maubos ang pera namin…kasi we were putting up a business.

Manny: It was a Christian wedding, with the ceremony and the reception held at the Intercon Hotel.

Cynthia: I’m Protestant; he’s Catholic.

Manny: Our plan was to invite only immediate members of our families. Kaya dumami kasi ang laki pala ng immediate family nito. We were nine siblings, kasi namatay ang isa sa charity ward ng ospital. He was six years old.

Cynthia: I have brothers and sisters.

Your marriage is as strong as ever. What’s the secret?

Cynthia: We share the same interests. Malaking bagay ‘yung pareho kayo ng hilig. We are both simple. The more simple your life is, the less the temptations.

How do you raise your children (all Business graduates: Paolo, 35, from Wharton; Mark, 33, from University of Pennsylvania, is a Congressman; and Camille, 26, now Willie Revillame’s co-host in the TV5 game show Wil Time Bigtime, from Ateneo)?

Cynthia: We never spoil them, especially with material things. Mababait sila. Wala sa kanila nagpasakit ng ulo namin. We don’t meddle in their love life. Our only advice is for them to find somebody na hindi magpapahirap sa kanila, ‘yung tutulong sa kanila.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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