A few taipans prospered while millions are starving

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - April 12, 2021 - 12:00am

It is not crime to become a billionaire even in a country with more than 100 million poor Filipinos. It is not a sin to be rich even when the great multitudes continue to hunger and starve. Yes, Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to enter the needle's hole than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But many of these people who prospered achieved their status through hard work and honest grit and guts.

The latest Forbes listing shows that former speaker, former Senate president and former senator, and presidential candidate Manny Villar, husband of senator Cynthia, and father of father of Public Works Secretary Mark and also father of Camille, the honorable congresswoman of Las Piñas, is now officially the richest Filipino, after the Sy siblings divided the more than $20 billion of the late Henry Sy Sr. The Villars are now officially, the most powerful financially, economically, politically, and socially. Villar is also the father-in-law of the former congresswoman Emilene Aglipay-Villar, the undersecretary of Justice, and wife of Secretary Mark. The Villars are controlling public works and justice while they have businesses that may have conflicts with their public functions. Senator Villar is chairing agriculture while many agricultural lands are being transformed into big housing projects of their real estate empires. Well, as Erap used to say, “weather-weather lang yan.”

While many small businessmen and owners of small enterprises are folding up due to the pandemic's devastating effects on the economy, the Villars have increased their wealth tremendously at a time of economic and health crisis. Well, they have not committed any crime, that is what their defenders say. But our question is: What are the Villars doing to help the people in this great pestilence? Ramon Ang has poured in billions to help the employees of San Miguel Corp., as well as the communities where they operate. Ang is silently augmenting his personal charitable work and the corporate social responsibility of the San Miguel Group. But we have not heard from the Villars. Manny Villar's projects have transformed rice fields into low-cost housing subdivisions, what are they doing to help alleviate our food shortage? We are asking this because Senator Cynthia Villar is the chairwoman of the agriculture committee. Is this not a conflict of interests? I leave it to the people to judge.

Here are the top 15 richest Filipinos in billions and in Philippine pesos based on 2020 figures: Manny Villar, P233.3 billion; Enrique Razon, P208.4B; Hans Sy, P128B; Herbert Sy, P123.9B; Henry Sy Jr., P119.1B; Harley Sy, P119.1B; Teresita Sy-Coson, P114.1B; Lucio Tan, P104.2B; Elizabeth Sy, P99.2B; Andrew Tan, P94.3B; Roberto Ongpin, P89.3B; Ramon Ang, P84.3B; Robert Coyiuto Jr., P74.4B; family of the late Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco P50B. In July 2020, the wealth of Villar was only $4.7B. In 2021, during the height of the pandemic, his wealth grew to $7.2B. It is not a crime to be rich, especially because most of this wealth was acquired through sheer hard work, guts, grit, and strategies. But when the nation is suffering and you get tremendously rich, you may have to explain to the people, especially if you are both a businessman and also head of a family with too many public officials.

I have my admiration for Manny Villar. He is an inspiration to many young Filipinos. But since he is the head of a business empire while his wife is a senator, his son is a Cabinet member, and his daughter is a member of Congress, and his daughter-in-law is an undersecretary, he and his family may have to explain in the next elections, if any or all of them are running again, how they were able to avoid any conflict of interests in the conduct of their businesses. That is the right of the people in the spirit of transparency and access to information imbued with public interest.

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