Most eligible bachelor Mark Villar on art, sax, politics and leadership

CYBER PROUST - Jojo G. Silvestre () - October 24, 2010 - 12:00am

Y ou know the humanity, heart and soul of a man by the quality of art that he collects. I don’t remember who said this, but when I visited Congressman Mark Aguilar Villar, the second son of Brown Taipan and Senator Manny Villar and three-termer Congresswoman Cynthia Villar, I just knew that the best way to know him better is through his growing art collection. Or in their midst, for I’ve been told that he is most relaxed when he occasionally gazes at them, and gets an inspiration or two.

Frankly, the visit was not to get to know him. It was to view his collection, which collectors of his age rave about. It turned out the pieces in his high-rise pied-à-terre, a “halfway house” between the Batasan Complex, where he reports as legislator during the first working days of the week, and the family home in Las Piñas, where he entertains constituents from Friday to Sunday, constitute only a portion of his much-vaunted treasures. Some of them, I was told, are in the President Laurel House, which the family bought recently and which now serves as a meeting place for the Nacionalista Party. Later, in one of the rooms of this highly-secured post-war mansion, I had the privilege of viewing the modern artworks that, obviously, say a lot about the man who collects them. I shall not pretend to be a psychologist, and say he is in every canvas staring back at its viewer. But I’ll tell you who Mark is: a man who thinks hard and deliberately before he purchases his artwork.  

What is obvious, upon meeting Mark first, is that his photos do not do justice to his person. He looks a lot better and he is turning out to be a copy of his handsome father, Manny Sr., although he says, “They say I am half of my dad and half of my mom.”  

Mark shares that when he was younger “and my parents were starting out in life, we did not have the paintings that they now have,” referring to the Amorsolos and Ang Kiukoks, among others, at the other end of the high-rise condominium that overlooks Manila de Bay on one side and the Laguna de Bay on the other. “So, this is how it feels to be on top of the world,” I tell myself, even as I am reminded of a former Senator’s statement that from his former office in the Makati City Hall, Vice President Binay could spit at the well-entrenched rich of Makati. From where I am, this is much closer, but of course, Manny Villar, nor his son Mark, would do that. And I’m not saying the honorable Veep would do that either.

What Mark remembers of his childhood are the prints depicting native scenes that hung on the walls of the family house. Later, of course, as the Villar couple rose in life and made it to the Forbes List, they bought their masters. Mark was a teenager when his father started buying realist works and, occasionally, modern works by Onib Olmedo. While Mark got the feel of it, years passed before he finally bought his first artwork.

Sax and the single guy:At the University of Pennsylvania, Mark kept at his sax to blow his stress away while studying and working to earn extra money. “Those years built my character. I learned to be independent. Artwork in the background is a work by Arturo Luz.

Mark, while talking about his happy childhood and praising his elder brother Paolo, “who is brilliant and from whom I learn a lot,” points at a large canvas by Yasmin Sison showing two young boys engaged in a fistfight. “They remind me of Paolo and myself when we were younger.” Memories of those days also include his father Manny personally installing a suitably high basketball ring in the house, “because I loved to play basketball and shoot in imaginary baskets.”

Mark is a very well-educated man. After his early years of education at the International School Manila, where he obviously learned about classical and modern visual art, and where he played the saxophone in the marching band, he left for the United States and pursued his BA degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He majored in philosophy, political science and economics, “because I wanted to be well-rounded.”

While in college and living alone, he learned “to be more independent. I got a job in the dining services department just to earn extra money. I met a lot of good people from different backgrounds and knowing about their cultures and countries broadened my outlook on life. I learned to be more independent. Those years built my character.” All the while, he kept at his sax to blow the stress away.

After college, he came home and joined the family firm. Before entering politics, he served as president of Crown Asia and MGS Corporation.

About five years ago, he started buying art, having been influenced by a friend who had been way ahead of him as a collector. “My first painting was by Geraldine Javier. She wasn’t that popular yet. It was a simple collage. And then I became very passionate. That was five years ago.” He clarifies that “paintings that do not tell a story do not interest me.”

Soon, he was attending art shows, and buying works that he truly liked. He hasn’t stopped, but he is not one easily swayed to buy just because he has to, or upon a friend’s urging. “I like modern artworks, and on that basis, I look at paintings. I like young artists. The nice thing about them is while they’re younger, they have a lot of angst, and it all comes out in their paintings. That’s why it’s always nice to get the early works. Young artists have larger art works, and you see the emotion.”

Mark toured me from wall to wall of the high-rise. Among the early works that he bought include those by Wire Tuazon, one of which is in the foyer. Marcel Antonio, son of Angelito, is represented in the hallway. A gift from his father is an Ang Kiukok “which I could not have afforded.” There are two Arturo Luzes too, both showing his rectilinear compositions. He showed me a Bernie Pacquing, which I couldn’t quite make out. “I like his abstracts. He has a very distinct style. Not everyone grasps it immediately.” Prominently hung on another wall is an abstract by Emmanuel Garibay. Mark confides he gets utmost pleasure from watching a Ronald Ventura.

Book lover:”I love reading biographies, autobiographies, and books on entrepreneurships,” says Mark. “Everyone in the family loves reading.”

“Collecting artworks is my hobby,” he shares. “People have their vices, this is mine.” He is in distinguished company. Among the young congressmen who also collect are Abigail Binay, Sonny Angra and Miro Quimbo. They bump into each other in art galleries, not necessarily during opening. He usually gets one piece when he attends art shows.

While he has an attachment to his collection, Mark says he is not averse to selling one if “an opportunity comes along, and I could use it to buy something else that I truly want.” That’s probably the astute business guy in him, who knows his economics.

In this house are various shelves scattered all over. “I love to read,” he explains. “My brother and I and everyone else in the family enjoy reading. We spend time in the bookstore. I love reading biographies, autobiographies and books on entrepreneurship.”

Of the many subjects and authors of books that he has read, he says, “I really look up to Lee Kuan Yew. He did amazing things in Singapore. He shared many lessons on leadership that he shared in his book. He said that a good leader should never be negative. He should never doubt his capabilities. He needs to inspire his people and above all, believe in himself and his abilities. And he needs to believe enough in himself so that he can solve the nation’s problems no matter how daunting. And he should have the will to carry out his intended solutions immediately.”

Mark watches movies too. The first Godfather movie is his all-time favorite and he admires Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.  His musical taste varies, “depending on my mood. If I am sad, I like listening to ballads. Other times, I listen to modern music and alternative.” He admits to being able to play “some music with my sax but I need a music sheet and I need to rehearse. I can play a few Broadway songs.”

He starts his day by running on the treadmill. “I am on the treadmill just to keep up and not gain weight. It’s easier because I don’t have to dress up to go to a gym.” He is well groomed, and says “I wear clothes depending on where I am going. I am not super fashionable. I just try to be a little updated. I am not a metrosexual. I’d rather be conservative.” He dressed up twice for this photo shoot, and, before leaving for Congress, changed into a crisp long-sleeved cotton shirt to match his jacket. Mark, I must say, is very handsome. One of the country’s most eligible, and so suave and polite, Mark deserves a girl to his liking.

“She has to be simple, and attractive to me. She has to be easy to get along with so I don’t end up getting stressed,” says Mark. What if she is interested in jewelry? His response: “All girls naman will want their trinkets, but not in excess. I am a public servant who gets only so much.” Then he adds, with a laugh, “Maybe, puwede pa yung mahilig sa paintings.”

Whoever becomes Mark’s girl-friend or wife can take a tip or two from his mother Cynthia, whom Mark considers “a very strong person. Together, Dad and she are a formidable couple. She is very organized and persistent. Mom has been supportive of Dad throughout his career as a businessman and as a politician. While Dad has always tried to shield us from hurts, Mom was always there side by side with him. In the last election, when we found out that Dad lost, she consoled him and took care of him. Of course, Dad took it as a gentleman. Till the end, he carried himself in such a dignified way, despite all the black propaganda hurled against him. We wanted the election to be about accomplishments and capability and veer away from the mudslinging. He put up a strong front for our family and that’s something I will never forget. Kahit paano, we got hurt in the campaign, but we decided we would continue with our lives knowing we did our best. The family agreed it was worth the try, and it was better than not to have gone for it at all. We have always agreed that regardless of what happens, we would pick ourselves up.”

Mark knows his politics and leadership from reading and from his father and mother. Of course, there’s his maternal grandfather, the late Dr. Filemon Aguilar, who started out in life as a hometown physician who accepted chicken, eggs and fruit as consultation fee. The people loved the old man so much, they asked him to run for mayor, a position that he occupied for decades. By the time Mark entered politics, the Aguilar family had been well entrenched in Las Piñas where the majority of the infrastructure and social developments have been made possible by his grandfather, father, mother and his maternal uncle, Mayor Vergel Aguilar. He joined the political fray after his mother completed the allowed three terms for a House Representative. As a congressman, he wants to take it easy and learn more. His Dad has been mentoring him on the legislative process and he is gradually picking up. Mark says, “I’d like to push for legislation that gives long-term benefits to our countrymen. Specifically a legislation that promotes education, investment and job creation. It’s important that we give people the tools to succeed and create an environment where business can flourish.”

Mark shares that he was active in the presidential campaign, “both in the conceptualization and execution of ads, and the local events that we organized. I can say that at this point I am a veteran when it comes to national campaigns.” Now and then, he comes across political opponents. He smiles, shrugs them off, or, as his father would want him to do, behave as a true gentleman. “I try not to take it too personally. There are some who I think overstepped their bounds in their attacks against my father but at this point, it’s better to move on. I think it’s important after such a divisive election that we all reach out to each other. In the end we’re all Filipinos and the only way to move our country forward is if we work together. It will be extremely difficult to succeed without unity.”

On the day that I visited the Laurel home and took a look at some of Mark’s collected painting, all was quiet. The gallery has interesting paintings by Alvin Villaruel, Rodel Tapaya Garcia, Jason Montinola, Marina Cruz, Alfredo Esquillo Jr., Costantin Zicarelli, Olan Ventura, Jayson Oliveria and Farley del Rosario. I was told that the place was busiest during the election campaign, although members of the Nacionalista party gather here regularly for meetings and the oath-taking of new members. Obviously, politics remains a passion and an avenue of service for the Villar family. There is no telling what is in store for Mark in the coming years, except that he wants to serve and do his best as a legislator. In the meantime, he has his constituents to care for.  

And on days that he wants to get away from it all, relax and review his options, he can always view his paintings and take inspiration from the creativity of these young artists whose works he loves to collect. For, as he often loves to say, “There is no point in looking at an artwork that does not give you pleasure.”

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Should you agree or disagree, praise or damn, please e-mail me at mailto:cyber.proust@yahoo.com.

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