Senator Cynthia Villar who successfully ran a campaign for re-election last 2016 is the richest senator of the Philippines. For her monumental showing at the polls, many see her as a heavy and serious contender to the Presidential polls come 2022. Villar has since denied aspiring for the top post, but you can never tell. As Speaker Jose de Venecia jr once remarked— politics in the Philippines is one of the most imponderables in the world.
A billionaire, Cynthia is known for her no-nonsense approach, her pragmatism, and her sharp political acumen. Compared with her husband, the former Senate president Manny Villar, Cynthia is more calculating, more strategic in terms of thinking and an able tactician. She looks tough, and she really is. I heard so many sobbing stories from her staff who got the boot when they failed to reach her expectations. She is known for rewarding those who do well, and giving the sh..t to those who miserably performed their assigned tasks. That to me, is something admirable. Leaders are supposed to do the right thing, and in several times, the right thing is simply giving what is due to those who are lethargic or underperforming.
I had the chance to know Senator Villar when she was still a Congressman. We had a serious discussion with my friend, Susan “Toots” Ople, Convenor of the Ople Labor Center several years ago, and one of the things we discussed is how to help distressed OFWs now making the OPLE CENTER their own house.
We understood their predicament–these kababayans are so ashamed of what happened to them that most of them defer going back to their respective homes. They go straight to Toots for help and the daughter of former Senator and beloved Labor secretary Blas Ople welcomes them with open arms. The thing is, they stay in her office not just for days, but weeks and months.
What our concerns were at the time was their stay here contributes towards their mental and psychological deterioration. Imagine going back home, without anything to show their families, and possibly, even facing public disapprobation for having humongous loans which they spent for their trip abroad only to find out later on that no bright future lies ahead for them there.
What Susan and I thought was to give these people hope by encouraging them to study again. Many of these victims only finished high school while some graduated but landed in odd jobs. Time for a remake, not just a cosmetic recovery, but something more valuable and more impactful to their lives.
Fortunately, we managed to enter into an agreement with the Asian School of Hospitality Arts or ASHA, a school which gives short term, TESDA approved courses in hospitality-related jobs. Some of them opted to study cooking, others housekeeping and a few several more courses—all free, thanks to the help given by the Villar Foundation, which is now I think, Sikap Tiyaga Foundation (?)
I have observed many promising presidential contenders before who are, like Cynthia, highly qualified, had the resources and even maintains a robust grassroots network with a political party to boot. They all failed for various reasons.
Mar Roxas had the illustrious name with him, a graduate from a prestigious global academic institution, had the network and was even the perceived power in an administration, yet, he lost to a populist petty local chief executive.
Former Speakers Jose de Venecia Jr and Ramon Mitra Jr. lost their respective bids to a populist mayor in the persona of actor Joseph Estrada and to a highly respected general and freedom icon in the persona of former AFP chief Fidel Valdez Ramos.
Cynthia’s husband, Manny Villar was the richest and the most powerful candidate to ever field himself to the presidential derby and look what happened to him? He, like his disastrous commercial, fell to a pile of garbage, a victim of scathing political persecution, malicious innuendoes and possibly accusations that he will only use his position to amass more wealth and power.
I fear that this is exactly what Cynthia will be accused of, the moment she files that certificate of candidacy for the presidency come 2022. Many people inside the Duterte administration wants her to continue what President Duterte started, but some fears that the very same issues which haunted and led to the ignominious fall of her husband would come back “like a thief in the night.”
Many, however, believe that if the Sinawatras of Thailand, billionaires, were able to cement a populist image and perception which eventually led to their political poll victories, such thing is possible for the Villars. But, that election in 2010 is really something to think about and possibly analysed by the Villars before they even think of throwing their hat once more in the presidential ring.