Cynthia Villar: Woman of 'sipag' and 'tiyaga'

CYBER PROUST - Jojo G. Silvestre () - April 24, 2011 - 12:00am

People thought that after the national election of 2010, Cynthia Aguilar Villar, wife of presidential candidate Many Villar, would relax and hibernate. Moreover, having completed her three terms as Representative of the lone district of Las Piñas, she had all the reasons to take it easy.

Not this lady, who has seen much of Philippine politics as the youngest daughter of Las Piñas town’s long-serving mayor, Filemon Aguilar, who later became congressman, and as the wife to the only politician in post-World War II Philippines, so far, who has served both as Speaker of the House of Representatives and as President of the Senate. While the national election mattered much to her, it wasn’t as though her husband’s defeat meant the end of public service for the two of them.

Not Just a Politician’s Wife

Manny conceded the election, and after the family had a brief vacation, he and Cynthia agreed it was time to move on and continue the work that they set out to do. “Manny said that if the Filipino people did not want him to serve as their President, we would still serve this country, the only one that we have, through other means and ways,” Cynthia shares. Manny resumed his post at the Senate which is due to end in 2013 and Cynthia gladly found all the precious time in her hands to continue the many good work that she had begun in Las Piñas.

Recently, Manny and Cynthia hogged the limelight when the Villar Foundation’s river rehabilitation and social enterprise, Sagip Ilog program bagged the “Best Water Management Practices” Award given by the United Nations Office to Support the International Decade for Action “Water for Life” UN Water Decade Program on Advocacy and Communication and the United Nations World Water Assessment Programme.

The Sagip Ilog program won over 39 other international finalists.

Salt-Bed Town

Waste not: In all 20 barangays, Cynthia introduced household waste segregation, which led to the conversion of biodegradable waste into compost which, in turn, is used as fertilizer. Photos by JOEY MENDOZA   

Cynthia recalls the Las Piñas of her youth “when the Las Piñas and Zapote Rivers were both very clean. There was so much aquatic life. Fishermen would come to us to sell their harvest. Salt beds were everywhere and the salt we produced was the best.” All that changed through time with both rivers turning into long stretches of murky waters. Las Piñas River runs 12.6 kilometers through the interior of the city, while 18.3 kilometers of the Zapote River serve as a boundary between Las Piñas and Bacoor towns. Along the residential areas pass some 25.1 kilometers of tributaries that people conveniently converted into a continuum of floating garbage.

In December 2002, the Villar Foundation, which Manny and Cynthia founded in 1995, launched the Sagip Ilog program, a dream-come-true for Cynthia who, in her first campaign in 2001, decided to meet the problem of river pollution head on. The initial phase focused on cleaning up the river, with Manny donating a backhoe-on-a-barge, a speedboat with a barge and a garbage truck. On her part, Cynthia realized the need for her constituents to benefit from the program or they would continue to contribute to the pollution problem. The livelihood component was thus introduced.

The various livelihood projects she said, “are interrelated as they show the interdependency of people and resources in ensuring that we are one in saving our environment.”

From Water Lily to Coconut Husks

Among the green social enterprises she organized, the water hyacinth fiber project stands out for the fact that the water lily that one sees in dirty rivers is the main material for producing beautiful and functional handicrafts like baskets, slippers, bags, ropero or laundry receptacles and décor items. “I found out about the technology because I met this lady, Ophelia So, in a program of a parents-teachers association. Since she is an exporter of products made of local materials, I asked her if something could be done out of the water lily that populate our rivers. She said yes and willingly taught us the process.”

The weaving centers started, on the other hand, when she was looking for a substitute for foreign-made mats that they distribute to calamity victims. Cynthia thought that a good substitute would be locally-made blankets but when she inquired around, she found out they cost a fortune. She ended up buying seven looms and a warping board from Julie Senga, a former mayor of a town in Abra. Cynthia hired one of Julie’s master weavers to teach the womenfolk of Las Piñas.

The weaving enterprise is financed by the coconut coir and peat project which transforms coconut husk, normally thrown to the river or left as waste on the streets by ambulant coconut vendors, into coco nets which are most effective in controlling soil erosion. The number one customer, interestingly, is Vista Land, the Villars’ real estate company, which uses these coco nets for its slope protection and soil erosion control requirements. Cynthia found out about the technology while conversing with another member of the Couples for Christ (CFC). It turned out the decorticating machine which processes coconut husks from which fibers are extracted and, in turn, woven into the coco nets, was invented by Dr. Justino Arboleda of Bicol State University, who was known to Cynthia’s friend from the CFC.

In all 20 barangays, Cynthia introduced household waste segregation, which led to the conversion of biodegradable waste into compost which, in turn, is used as fertilizer. Because of the efforts of the Villar Foundation in the whole city, Las Piñas may well be the true University of Life, one not confined in buildings, but one where learning takes place among, for and by the people. Cynthia is the best First Lady we never had. Or almost had.

Feisty and No-Nonsense

Cynthia is a humble, down-to-earth yet feisty and no-nonsense woman who could have made a real positive difference in the lives of our people. She went to the University of the Philippines for college, to the New York University for her MBA, and when she was legislator, served as chair of the Committee on Higher and Technical Education. She was also the president of the Association of Lady Legislators while serving as president of the Senate Spouses Foundation.

Ikmo Vendor

After Manny completed his three terms in the House of Representatives, Cynthia ran for Representative and made it. As she puts it, “I love Las Piñas, my only hometown, and it is one place where we can run for a public position and are sure to emerge winners without spending much money.” The secret, she shares, “lies in one’s continuing presence in the community. I have realized that the more time you have with your constituents, the less expense you incur in winning an election.” Cynthia, when she was a legislator, spent half her time in the Batasang Pambansa during sessions, and devoted her weekends to local projects. It wasn’t just about taking care of the votes. It was about improving the lot of people through livelihood “because I cannot imagine needy people not working and earning their living when I continue to work hard even at my age and my economic status.”

From dirty rivers to beautiful handicrafts: Water lilies from polluted waters are converted into baskets, slippers, dolls and decorative items by the Las Piñas folk.

Thrift and hard work are two Aguilar family values that she continues to practice and has made sure to pass on to her children, Manuel Paolo III, Mark and Camille Linda. She recalls, “My grandmother on my father’s side, Manuela, would wake up at one o’clock in the morning to catch the Saulog Bus that would take her to Divisoria where she sold ikmo, which people then mixed with betel nut for their nganga, a form of cigarette for the older folk. She had to be there early because that’s when transactions were at their peak. By 10 a.m., she would be home in Las Piñas to take her lunch, and then prepare the same goods that she would sell the next day. She was doing the same thing, hawking ikmo in Divisoria, even when my father was mayor and her other son, a building constructor.”

Cynthia’s mother, Lydia, was a thrifty woman who wisely set aside some amount from her husband’s meager income as a physician who, most often, ended up curing his patients for free or even giving them money to buy food, “for how can he expect his patients to get well when they had nothing to eat? What my mother did with her savings was to buy lands on installment basis. She was able to accumulate lands because a hectare then cost P1,000,” narrates Cynthia.

Cynthia isn’t like many spouses of politicians who get into the fray only because their husbands are “resting” after completing the maximum terms they are allowed to occupy an elective position. When she joined politics, which was never her ideal of a vocation, she saw an opportunity to serve. Hence her many projects intended to uplift the lives of her kababayan.

From Sand and Gravelto Low-Cost Houses

After graduating from the University of the Philippines where she earned her degree in Business Administration, major in Finance, Cynthia enrolled at the New York University for her MBA which she finished in only one and a half years instead of the minimum of two. She obviously brought into public service the credentials of a woman who knows what management and finance is all about. “I was lucky. When my graduate studies adviser saw my college record, she exempted me from taking seven basic subjects, so I ended up finishing my MBA faster than the other Filipinos who enrolled the next day. Our adviser was in a different mood and required them to take all the basics,” she recalls laughing at her good fortune.

Manny and Cynthia, from the start of their marriage, went into business, initially engaging in the delivery of sand and gravel. They would wake up early to ensure that the drivers took off on schedule, and slept at 12 midnight after assessing the day’s work, and discussing what needed to be done the next day.  Seeing from their customers that “constructing houses was something we could do efficiently, Manny decided to engage in building and selling houses.” She recalls that even then, “half of their customers were locally-employed couples, while the other half were families in which the head of the family was a seaman or an OFW. It is a ratio that remains to this day and you can say the same things of many businesses. Their customers, whether they’re selling food or clothes, are basically the same. How can we not take care of the OFWs? ” She laments the plight of “many Filipinos who are stranded in the Middle East and who now live under the bridge, as they hope they would be arrested and deported back to the Philippines. Shouldn’t our government use a tiny part of its budget to repatriate these Filipinos?”


THE PHILIPPINE STAR: How does your day start?

CYNTHIA VILLAR: I wake up at six in the morning. I make my phone calls. I work on my things-to-do. I attend to appointments before lunch.

Do you take breakfast with Manny?

We both do not take breakfast. We don’t eat when we’re not hungry. We’re trying to control weight, so we eat only when we’re hungry.

What drives you? Why the emphasis on livelihood?

My grandmother Manuela and my mother Lydia were hardworking. My grandmother sold ikmo in Divisoria. My mother was a teacher. My father was a doctor. Most of his patients were poor. We used to live in Zapote. My mother had a rice mill while my father had a poultry. My mother planted saluyot and sold them in the train station in Muntinlupa. When it was harvest time, they would be awake even at nighttime because that was when the palay came. My lola and my mother were very industrious. Between the two of them, they were able to purchase lands. They were thrifty, that’s why they were able to save for the monthly payments. They were the ones who taught me how to live a simple life, how to save.

My mother would always say, if you earn money, be sure to keep it because it’s not always the case that you’ll make money. So that if the times are difficult, you still have money.  So, we’d feel guilty.

You are the youngest in the family.

Yes. I am the youngest of six children. When I was a little girl, I liked my father because anything that I wanted was okay with him. But my mother was something else. Maraming reklamo. But when you are old and you remember who taught you your lessons that are now handy, it is your mother. That’s why children who are complaining about their mothers nagging them will later realize she was right after all. It was their mother who taught them how to cope with life’s challenges, how to go through life’s ups and downs. You know how fathers are. Si Manny, mabait sa mga anak.

How did you become a politician? Was it your calling, since your father was a politician?

Hindi ko naman calling yang politics. Since Manny’s term ended, who was going to run for congressman? That’s how I got into politics. And I was acceptable because I was a daughter of a mayor. But my siblings are far more comfortable when it comes to dealing with people. I can be very strict.

So, are you the disciplinarian whether in the family or the community?

Oo, they know that. Eh kasi, anong mangyayari sa amin? Mabait ka nga, you have not done anything naman. In the end, people will ask you, what have you done? I’d rather that people say mahigpit ako than be labeled as nice and kind and not have done anything.

Where were you educated?

Elementary sa Muntinlupa Elementary School. It is a public school. Ang high school ko, sa Philippine Christian University.

So you went to a Christian school? That was founded by the United Methodist Church.

Kasi Protestant ang mother ko. Ang father ko, Aglipayan. Si Manny, Roman Catholic. But it didn’t matter to us. Ang Daddy ko, sumama sa Mommy ko.  It’s not the religion, it is the person. Manny has a good friend who is a Buddhist, pagkabait-bait. Ang dami nga diyan na religious, hindi naman pina-practice ang religion.

How old were you when your father was mayor?


Were you helping in his campaign?

No, not when I was that young. When I was married, I lived here. This was our first house. This is one of the biggest barangays in Las Piñas, so I was the leader here. Ako ang nangangampanya rito. When my father ran for Congress after he was removed as mayor in 1986, and the next election was for the legislature, Manny and I campaigned. We campaigned from house to house. It was difficult because we were with the opposition. My father ran against Cory’s choice. Only three congressmen from the opposition survived. These were my father, Ronnie Zamora in Mandaluyong and Ysmael Mathay in Quezon City.

What made the campaign difficult?

Cory Aquino came here three times. Every time she came, I thought, “Talo na kami.” If we didn’t go from house to house, talo kami. Unless they saw anyone of us, they would not vote for my father. It was the time when Cory’s candidates mattered.

Why did you go to UP?

Wala lang. In the case of Manny, it was accidental. A friend of his wanted to study in UP. Manny passed and his friend did not make it. Me naman, I didn’t have to take the examination because I was salutatorian so I had automatic admission. I was an entrance scholar.

You must have been in the honor roll all the time.

Well, at that time, no one entered UP who was not in the honors list. I guess most of those who studied in UP then were either valedictorian or salutatorian. Or these were students from exclusive schools who probably got honorable mention only, but they were outstanding because they had a good educational foundation. But those who came from the public schools and the provinces were valedictorians and salutatorians. Our aim was to survive.

What did you take up in college?

Business Administration major in Finance. Manny majored in Accounting. That’s why he is good in Accounting. And, as a legislator, he is always in the Committee on Finance. All these years, he would read a financial statement and could tell a story based on it. You could really see the story of a company out of its financial statement.

Did you live in the dorm?

When I was freshman, I lived with my aunt Nenita Casimiro, who was a chemistry professor. She lived in one of those houses for the faculty in one of those areas. It was sort of a tradition that students from Las Piñas who studied in UP Diliman stayed with her. From second year to fourth year, I stayed in the dorm. I had two years in Kamia and one year in Sampaguita.

Were you also an activist?

When we were in Sampaguita, in 1970, rallies became a regular occurrence. The buses were waiting in the morning. The Student Council had money so we had free transportation that brought us to Plaza Miranda for rallies. When we came back in the afternoon, our parents were all there. They were worried we would get hurt or killed. We promised them we would not join anymore, but the next day, as soon as we saw the buses, we all went again.  After a while, our mothers got tired. They didn’t come to scold us anymore. Either because they realized they could not stop us, or they saw that we could take care of ourselves. Others were really aggressive, but we were more careful.

Were you active in extracurricular activities?

Meron naman, because in UP, the different colleges have their respective organizations. If one majored in Finance, there was a junior finance association. Marketing majors joined the junior marketing association. Future accountants had their Junior Philippine Institute of Accountants and so on. It was automatic. I didn’t join any sorority. Manny joined the Pan Xenia.

How did you meet Senator Villar?

We were classmates. We were barkada.

So, how did he court you?

Wala, we were friends. Our friendship developed into something else.

What did you like in him?


He wasn’t a rich kid.

But already industrious. I noticed that the sons of the rich then were tatamad-tamad (lazy bones). Mabuti pa yung mahirap. Poor young men who are industrious are much better.

Didn’t your parents have somebody in mind for you?

They liked Manny from the start. Manny was the serious type. It was like he never went through happy go-lucky teenage years. I was telling my parents, “He is too serious, and so corny.” My father said, “That’s better. He will take care of you until you grow old. Those who are not corny will take care of you only when you’re young. He will grow old with you.” Tama naman. That’s why I always tell my children, papunta pa lang kayo, pabalik na ako. I really listened to my parents. My daughter once said, “If I’m half as hardworking as my mom, I’m alright.”

Is your husband romantic?

He is mabait but not so romantic. Okay lang. Pag too romantic ang lalake, baka may pinagtatakpan. (Laughs)  And as I always tell myself, when God gives you much, He can’t give you everything. When all is given to you, you should be worried. You should start asking yourself, “What is the price I have to pay?”

How is your daughter Camille?

Hardworking. But “hardworking” meant different in the olden days.

When you went to New York for your MBA, boyfriend niyo na si Senator?


Bakit nag-New York pa kayo?

I really wanted to study in the United States. Ang sabi ko nga, kahit pa anong boyfriend yan, if you have an opportunity to study in a good educational institution, my God, take it. Kung talagang iyo yang boyfriend na yan, iyo yan. Kung hindi naman, mabuti you found out early. Ako, there is no doubt in my mind that if I have an opportunity, I will take it. Ganun kasi dapat, lahat ng opportunities that come your way, you take. Because this will not come the second time. Tutoo yun, wala akong opportunity na pinakawalan. Kasi, you know, it doesn’t come your way every time. Wala na yang arte arte na romantic-romantic.

How long were you in New York University?

One year and one summer. I left the Philippines in 1971. When I came home, the Philippines was under Martial Law.

Was Martial Law easy for you?

Oh, it was difficult. My father was incarcerated.

Why? Was he with the opposition?

Not really, but if I remember right, all the mayors of Metro Manila were put in jail. Some people might have been interested in their jobs. They made all sorts of accusation. He was probably in jail for three weeks. Not too long.

Didn’t you get a lawyer to take him out of jail immediately?

There were no accusations. (Laughs) He was not accused of anything.

What made you decide to go into housing?

Since we were delivering gravel and sand to those who were constructing houses, Manny said, “E madali naman palang magtayo ng bahay.” So, the first two houses that he built were for a locally employed Montessori school principal, and a housewife whose husband was a seaman. That was 50-50. Would you believe after 35 years in the business, ganuon pa rin ang ratio ng mga home buyers? Half are locally-employed and half are overseas Filipino workers.

That’s why we need to love our OFWs. Without them, 50 percent of our economic activity will not exist. Can you imagine the Philippines without the 50 percent? Ano tayo? Kaya si Manny, he loves the OFWs. From Spain, after we received the award from the UN, he went to Dubai to visit them.

These OFWs send us a remittance of US$20 billion net. Walang value added. Tapos, 10 million ito. So, he was asking, “Bakit may Department of Tourism when we only get three million tourists a year? Why don’t we have a department for the OFWs when we have some 10 million Filipinos all over the globe earning money and sending a big part of it to the Philippines?

Si Manny kasi, nakita niya yan dahil nakikita niya ang benta ng business niya. And if that is the contribution in his company, he is sure na yan din ang contribution to every company in the Philippines. Lahat ng tindahan, ng services. I am sure the same experience. Without that purchasing power, wala lahat yan. Bakit di mo sila aalagaan? Kawawa naman sila. You really have to help them. Talaga namang there’s a certain percentage na nagkakaruon ng problema eh konti lang naman, relative to the number. For example, in Dubai, the typical number in their OWWA house is 200, so you can assume that is a full house, so you should be able to take care of at least 200 at a given time.

For example, in Jeddah now, there are 7,000 under the bridge. Since they are stranded for various reasons, like some of them escaped from abusive employers, the only solution for them to be able to come home to the Philippines is by encamping under the bridge hoping that the authorities would arrest and deport them back to the Philippines.  Manny, sabi ko, kung ako ang president, pauwiin ko na lahat yun. There’s a P35-million budget, why not use it for these stranded OFWs? Why aren’t they given sufficient attention?

What was your role in your business in its initial years?

Well, at the start, it was a mom-and-pop operation. Every night, he would do his accounting because he is the accountant so he knew how to do that part. Afterwards, we got bigger. We hired professional managers. Naghati kami. We decided we could not be in the same company because marunong siya, marunong ako. So, he stuck to real estate. I am now in charge of the malls. I never interfere in his business. I might end up teaching him and he’ll end up scolding me.

When did your interest in the arts begin? You have so many beautiful and valuable paintings.

It’s Manny who’s interested in visual arts. In my case, I would like a painting now and then. Mark got his interest in visual arts from his father. I am more interested in home decoration, or putting things together to create an ambience that you like. So, I take care of the house. There can’t be two people decorating a home. It will end up in a clash of opinions and preferences. And that’s our policy at home. If someone starts something, leave it to him or her. Basta si Manny, he would choose his room, and he would take care of that. I leave it up to him to put the furniture, appliances and the décor that he wants.

How are you with your sons?

I used to be a strict mother. Ngayon na lang hindi kasi malalaki na sila. I should let them be daw.

What kind of daughters-in-law do you want?

Masipag at hindi pahirap. At makakatulong. Dapat makatulong at hindi magpahirap.

How about Camille? What kind of son-in-law do you want?

The same traits.

What else do you tell her?

You have to create a career for yourself. Even if you marry the best husband who will provide you everything, you still should have your own identity. Kung kaya rin lang, a woman should be doing something. I am passionate about my livelihood projects because I cannot imagine a situation in which poor women do not work or make a living. They need a work more than I do, and here I am working very hard. How can they not work? May mga kaso na kaya nabubugbog kasi lahat hinihingi sa asawa.

How did you cope after the election?

Madali lang. When Manny ran, we knew it was going to be an uphill battle. It was easy before but when Cory died, we knew it was going to be difficult. But since he had his vision and he had his supporters, he still ran. Besides, it wasn’t right if those who had been behind him would end up thinking he didn’t run anymore just because Cory died.

Did it cross your mind to back out?

No. We saw it wasn’t going to be easy but he was all set to run, and he ran. Why would he back out? We agreed it was the right thing to do, for him to go through it and if luck favored him, fine. When we lost, it was okay. Tuloy ang buhay. It’s like we were in a crossroad in our life. It was a matter of deciding whether we would go ahead or take the other way. As Manny always says, “If they don’t want me to serve as President, we will serve in another capacity as private people.” It’s not because he didn’t win the presidency that he would stop helping people and serving the country.

What do you do during your leisure time?

Watch television, clean the house. (Laughs)

Do you watch telenovela?

No, news lang. I cannot stand long commercials. Someone gave us a gadget which contains 200 movies. It was attached to our television so one could watch these movies anytime.

What is your philosophy in life?

I am happy, I am satisfied. If you’re no longer satisfied, you become lonely.

By the time you were born, your family was well-off. Is it safe to say you were born with a silver spoon?

Hindi naman. As I was telling you, my mother was very hard working. We were not born that way.

But you were very comfortable.

I’ve always been comfortable in my whole life. Nasa attitude mo yun eh. Ako, I’ve always liked my life.

What is your kapritso?

Ako, ang gusto ko lang, pag may gusto akong gawin, I have the resources.

I heard you’re very cost-conscious.

One day, Diane and I went around the house to decide which lights should be left turned on at night. With such a large house, we had to do that to be able to achieve our target electric bill. Bakit naman kailangang nakasindi ang ilaw? That’s another thing my mother taught me. She would remind us to switch off the light each time we left the room.

In all of these nine years, why was environmental preservation, specifically the rehabilitation of your rivers, among your priorities?

Well, there was really too much degradation of the river. And sisingilin ka niyan. Magbabaha kayo. Problems will come. Lahat ng problema, darating yan. Ang dami na nating nakita. Like what happened when Ondoy came. Taytay, Marikina, Cainta, Pasig…it took a long time before the flood waters receded. In the case of Las Piñas, it only took four hours. We did not experience Ondoy, thank God, the way other towns did. We gave konsuwelo de bobo or token assistance to some of the families in Las Piñas, though their places were never flooded or badly affected.

You made a success of your environment projects. But I’m sure you didn’t achieve it overnight. What’s the hardest part of it?

The people’s resistance to change. It’s always like that. You need to attain the cooperation of the people. It’s an hbo problem, a human behavioral problem. You can always do something about a problem like resources, but the difficult part is people’s cooperation because it’s beyond your control. You can only strategize how to win them to your side. And you have to take time. They can easily accept me and my projects now because they see successful results. So one can’t just talk and talk. One has to show something.

So, what do you do?

I strategize. Kaya ko nga naisip na livelihood, it’s the only way they will cooperate. Kasi nga, what’s the point of having a clean river when the stomach is empty? So, you have to solve the root of the problem. You take care of the waste and make this waste useful to their lives by adding a livelihood component to your waste management. It should be profitable for the needy.

I am happy naman because para namang talagang sinadya na ibigay ni Lord sa akin. Anybody can listen to my Couples for Christ household member about Dr. Justino Arboleda, who designed the decorticating machine, the equipment that separates from the coconut husk the fibers used for making the coco net that controls soil erosion. But will that person see the opportunity that I saw? Of course, I was in a position to do something about it. I saw an opportunity when I realized it is better to give away blankets made in the Philippines than mats made in China. So we bought handlooms and that’s what I told our constituents, including housewives and young people. We are offering this training for weaving, so grab the opportunity.

As a couple, your and Senator Manny’s dream has always been to serve. Or was it only business that you wanted to pursue?

When you are young and you have no money, your first dream is to establish yourself. That is the first dream because of the hierarchy of needs. When we were young, we really tried hard to push our business forward. And then, when you have the resources, that’s when you dream of what you want to do for your people. And that’s what we did.

What lessons did you learn from the 2010 campaign?

If you make known your intention early, your political enemies, including colleagues, will try their best to destroy you. Ako naman, I think presidency is a matter of destiny. Who would know that Cory would die? I think the important thing is you tried your best. And then, que sera, sera. Baka nga blessing in disguise yan, eh. Di mo lang alam. Ako, yung ganito ako kasipag at ka-serious sa aking ginagawa, baka mamatay ako sa sakit at kaiisip kung paano ko matutulungan yung kapuwa ko Pilipino. Eh sa dami ba naman ng problema, baka mamatay akong kaiisip kung paano yan i-solve.

So, what has kept you going?

The important thing is you are happy with yourself.

What else do you want to do?

I have a long way to go insofar as my programs are concerned. I want to raise the number of my composters to 100. From 47 to 100 composters in all the barangays of Las Piñas. We have to establish more than 15 a year. Kung puwede, every big barangay here will have a decorticating machine.

We have a project kasi in Muntinlupa na subdivision, near Sucat. And it’s beside the lake, and ang kapal kapal ng water lily sa lake. I want to have a livelihood center there to process those water lilies. Dapat duon. I don’t believe in products you make here, you have to bring pa outside. Kailangan mabenta na rito.

What is your strongest asset?

I can spot opportunities. I can get the value of my money maximized. Even here, we prepare our budget and we follow that budget.  If you have more money than that, the important thing is you stick to that reasonable budget. That’s how we do things here. Whether it’s our home, our political office, there’s a separate budget for each. People would say, mayaman ka naman, you can do anything, you can spend as much as you like. Why would I do that? If you can manage with a specific amount, why go beyond it? Why should I allow unreasonable expenses?

What is your advice to people who want to be successful?

Word hard. I was telling one of my employees who is always absent. Bakit ka ba nag-aabsent e ang bata bata mo? Ako, ang tanda tanda ko, trabaho nang trabaho. Dapat mas mahina ako. E di walang maisagot. My people are as hardworking as myself because how can they not be? They follow my example.

What is your most unforgettable challenge?

Our early years in business. If you’re a small player, it’s not easy. Ang tawag ni Manny duon, guerilla warfare. When you’re a small company, you have to choose your battles. You cannot fight head on because you don’t have the resources. Lahat naman, you will make it pag decided ka eh. It’s hard along the way but I never complain because our endeavors became successful despite the hardship.

When did you get the advice that you won in Spain? How did you feel?

They emailed us. The one who nominated me said not to tell others because the UN wants to be the one to announce it. Nagulat ako because it was a last-minute entry. I was telling them earlier, how could it win when they rushed the nomination form? I didn’t even check what they wrote in the nomination papers. I was very busy. I didn’t think we would make it because I felt that the one who nominated us should have had ample time in crafting the papers required for the nomination process. On hindsight, they did a good job in documenting the Sagip Ilog program.

What is this Water for Life program?

It’s a decade program of the UN. It’s from 2005 to 2015. It’s part of the Millennium Development Goal of the United Nations. This one is focused on water. Nagulat nga ako because akala ko, water system. Yung river nga naman is part of water. Kasi nga, it has to do with managing one’s water resources. So if it floods, it means you’re not managing your water resources.

You’re not in office but you are busier than ever. What is your priority now?

Fifty percent, I am busy with Villar Foundation. The other 50, my work in the malls. And I am building Villar Sipag Center, a social institute for poverty alleviation. We will have our ground breaking on May 14. It is a complex that will include a church, a library museum. May kasamang mini convention center, a civic center, a little mall so it will be self-sustaining. I will build a small hotel because it will be a training center. Instead of a general library, books will be limited to poverty reduction. We believe that the problem of the Philippines is poverty and we should all do our part in reducing poverty in this country. One AIM professor was telling me that despite the growth of the gross domestic product of the Philippines, its poverty rate, surprisingly, is increasing. Ibig sabihin, money is concentrated on a limited number of people. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer.  Ang problema natin, yung mga power, water, yung mga basic needs, are expensive. The amount we pay for water and the like is the highest in the world. The owners are the most influential. These people who are wallowing in profit at the expense of the people don’t like Manny.

What else do you do in the Villar Foundation?

Aside from river rehabilitation with social enterprises component, we are engaged in OFW assistance, tree planting, entrepreneurship and livelihood, health and social services, youth education and sports, church building and financial assistance to religious organizations, and culture and the arts. We established the Villar Foundation In 1995. I am the managing director now because I have the time. Manny is the chairman. God has been good to us, why can’t we do our part to make life better for our fellowmen?

You’re very happy with your life.

I have no regrets. Wala naman akong ginusto na hindi ko na-achieve. Not that everything has to be for me, but the goals that I really aimed for, I attained. May bonus pa.

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

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