The Villars' alleged conflicts of interest
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B Jimenez (The Freeman) - February 15, 2019 - 12:00am

I have the highest admiration for the Villars and the great business empire that they have built in real estate and related enterprises. Manny Villar, with total assets worth five billion US dollars is next to Henry Sy as the richest man in the Philippines. And that is fine because he and his family built their wealth in honest and hardworking ways. They are an inspiration to Filipino entrepreneurs because they have demonstrated that business success in the Philippines is not the monopoly of Chinese taipans and tycoons. I have expressed much admiration for Manny Villar, how he was able to build a business conglomerate over a period of two decades, with the support of his spouse who belongs to the landed Aguilar family of Las Piñas.


But my admiration for the Villars is not enough reason for me, as an independent columnist, to write what we all know, the fact that Senator Cynthia Villar and her son Mark Villar, and the latter's wife, (who is also running again for reelection as party-list bet for Congress), are facing an inevitable conflict or a series of conflicts of interest. Cynthia Villar, for quite a time, has been the chairwoman of the Senate's Agricultural Committee. In that capacity, she is mandated by law to legislate measures that shall promote the agricultural development of the country and to uphold the rights, interests and welfare of agricultural workers. Now, the question that is begging to be asked is: How can she do all these when the family's real estate development has been, for the longest time, transforming rice and corn farms into Camella Homes and Vista Land projects?

Cythia Villar is a decent and honest person, no doubt about that. But if the interests of her family's business empire collide with the interests of the farmers and small landowners, her decisions shall no longer be beyond reproach. Her decisions, actions, and transactions will definitely be subject to suspicions and doubts. And thus, she will not be an effective legislator. She has a big baggage to carry, and is in fact, carrying it all the time, and the farmers will definitely have difficulty believing that her decisions are not tainted by the heavy influence of business considerations. For delicadeza, since her family business directly affect the rights, interests and well-being of farmers, Cynthia Villar should have inhibited from chairing the Agriculture Committee in the Upper House.

Mark Villar, the Secretary of Public Works and Highways, may be an honest man. He is definitely professional and has all the earmarks of integrity and propriety. But constructing highways and public works may directly or indirectly benefit the Villar businesses. The design of the plans, the locations of the highways and the accessibility of these government projects to Camella Homes, Vista Land and other Villar enterprises shall definitely create conflicts of interest. We should recall that when Manny Villar ran for president, one of the most damaging issues against him was the construction of the C-5 road in relation to, or in proximity to, the Villar developed properties. Because of the many Villar businesses, Mark Villar should have inhibited from working in such a delicate government agency.

The Villars do not need jobs in government to earn their livelihood. They are billionaires with a very big B. Then, why do they insist on working in government offices, the functions of which directly conflict with their businesses? Well, I give them the privilege of doubt. But by putting themselves in the positions they are in, they are no longer “like Caesar's wife.” They are no longer beyond reproach. As citizens and taxpayers, we have the right to raise issues on these apparent conflicts of interest, don't we?

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