Was Manny Villar poor?

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas -

Was the family of Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manny Villar really poor in the olden days? Is Manny making up stories about a deprived childhood to draw the sympathy of voters in the May 10, 2010 election? Was his mother a fish trader, or a fish vendor? (A trader means someone who has capital to distribute products to vendors.) Why does he claim his family was poor when he and his siblings were sent to an exclusive school? Why does he keep saying the family lived in very miserable conditions when they were a “middle-class” family? If the family had no money, why was Manny’s three-year-old brother Danny sent to the Far Eastern University hospital for treatment for leukemia, when he could have been taken to the Philippine General Hospital which charged lower fees, and why was his body taken to Funenaria Paz when the family had no money to pay for memorial services?

These questions have been asked by critics, some of them intellectuals, articulate and research-oriented, to show that Manny is a liar — and they have statistics and witnesses testifying to the falseness of his claim to having been poor, that such being the case, he is not fit for the job of president of the Republic.

Like some of this columnist’s readers, I am fascinated by rags-to-riches, Horatio Algiers-type stories, by tales of poor lads working themselves to the bone and becoming millionaires. What is their magical formula for success? Surely, if they can make it, we can make it. Or can we all make it?

The “sipag at tyaga” formula of Manny Villar has drawn an awesome following, and not surprisingly, struck discord and worry among those who favor other candidates with perceived clean and honest no-records, legacies, and untrammeled vision for a better Philippines. Well, each to his own conviction. Dissenting opinions are expressed within families, among columnists on the same publications, among the rich and bright and famous, even among the poor who may feel deceived by Manny’s claims to having been poor. As is made to appear, being poor is not a crime, rather, claiming to be once-poor is.

For fairness’ sake, I’m putting out Manny’s answers to the charges hurled at him. I’ve culled my data from printed and broadcast materials, stories coming out on the Internet, conversations with the Villar camp and followers, and interviews with Manny.

1. A photo taken in October 1962 of Manny with his brother Danny appears in a commercial, supposedly to draw voters’ empathy. Danny was stricken with leukemia, and the family took him to Far Eastern University Hospital for treatment; why to this institution to which the rich went, was made possible with the assistance of a cousin who was a nurse at the hospital — and, mind you, the boy was confined in the charity ward, not in a private, air-conditioned room. Manny says Danny was taken from clinic to clinic and finally, to FEU, but still the family could not buy all the medicines needed for him to survive, and 13 days later, he died. I do not believe Manny capitalizes on the death of his brother to win the hearts of voters; rather he shows the tyranny of poverty as causing the passing away of a loved one.

A blogger wrote that Danny died from cardiac and respiratory failure resulting from complications of leukemia, and that in 1962, “there was no bone marrow transplantation and chemotherapy yet and everyone whether rich or poor died from contracting leukemia.”

Manny replies to that comment thus: “At this point, let me just say that the family of Manny Villar finds it very sad that they have to explain themselves here. Leukemia afflicts both rich and poor, but the rich get proper medical care, unlike poor Danny who had absolutely no chance and died at a very young age. Cancer, leukemia, etc. — these illnesses may be hopeless cases. But it is always disheartening not to be able to afford medical care to a poor child like Danny. This is a dark moment in the Villar family’s life. And these bashers want to make light of it?”

2. Why was Danny’s body taken to Funenaria Paz — when his family was too poor to pay for mortuary services? A Villar staff member told me, the Villars, already saddened by their inability to let Danny live, allowed a representative from the funeral parlor to take the body, but a couple of days later, decided to bring it home for the final wake. If you had money, you would settle for the amenities of a funeral parlor, and not cramped house space.

 3. The Villars did buy a 560-sq.m lot on Bernardo street in San Rafael Village in the Tondo-Navotas area. The lot and the house the family built, was in a village of five to 10 houses, and was constantly flooded. “Definitely NOT high-end . . . not gated,” says Villar. And Manny’s father, a government employee, bought it through a P16,000 loan from GSIS. The property, which has been sold — now, 25 years after the Villars bought it — costs many millions of pesos.

4. Manny’s father was an employee at the Fisheries Bureau. His and his wife’s combined incomes enabled them to buy the San Rafael property. So the Villars were not dirty poor — this Manny emphasizes. They were not poor-poor. They could have a broth of canned corned beef once in a while, but not everyday — a big treat for a family of 11.

5. Manny’s mother was a seafoods trader, not a vendor. Even years before, Manny told us newspaperwomen, that he helped his mother sell shrimps and fish she bought from a dealer, on winnowing baskets in Divisoria.

6. Manny’s parents valued education; Manny first enrolled at the Isabelo de los Reyes Elementary School, but soon moved to a ”private school” — the Holy Child Catholic School, a parochial school subsidized by the parish where tuition was not of the standards of private schools today.

It’s funny, and sad, and very frustrating, to hear and read and witness the bashing of candidates in this campaign. Bashers trump up charges (remember how Manny was being trumpeted as owning a multi-million dollar worth mansion in Utah?), and call rival camps immoral. Says Manny: “You guys are so different from people like me and the rest of the MBV supporters, because we cannot be as good, as holy, as virtuous as you hypocrites are.”

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