Monday, March 29, 2010

A conversation with Noynoy

(This is being re-printed with the kind permission of Philippine Graphic and refers to the April 5-12, 2010 edition. Many thanks to Inday Espina-Varona for having been such a wonderful editor throughout.)

Give five individuals you want for your cabinet, their positions and why you want them.

“We are still in the process of assessing potential candidates and are, at any rate, far more focused on winning the election right now.” (Note: Dinky Soliman’s name has already been mentioned in this regard but no other names have been brought forward.)

Do you see a need to review and modify the Visiting Forces Agreement? If you do, which parts would you like to change and what would you recommend? If not, why do you think it works just right?

“As an archipelagic country with one of the longest combined coastlines in the world, we still don’t have the ability to protect our people or our country’s strategic and economic interests. Coming to an agreement with the US on their forces in the Philippines is therefore critical. But the VFA merits further scrutiny, as the ‘Nicole’ case has shown all too well. How is our national sovereignty being protected? For that matter, it might be good to review
all agreements that our government enters into so we can ensure that the interests of the Filipino people, above all, are treated as a fundamental defining principle.”

“If a Filipino is tried and found guilty in this country, shouldn’t justice dictate that he be detained in prison as a result? Regrettably, because of the VFA, an American soldier guilty of a crime is afforded the privilege of being detained at the US embassy instead. It’s high time that we looked at the VFA in its present form and asked ourselves: “
Paano naman ang mga interes natin?”

“The economic provisions of the VFA should be reviewed, specifically (with respect to) the rights of Filipinos vis-à-vis those of the visiting forces… I want to review the concept of visiting. It seems that they are not actually visiting; they seem to be a permanent presence and are already in this country in violation of the law… A review would tell us which provisions we will have to alter in the VFA.”

How would your administration ensure that the amended agrarian reform law were fulfilled, both in terms of land coverage and aid for beneficiaries? What improvements are needed to make agrarian reform a more successful component of social justice and economic development?

“I have already talked to members of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan (to discuss) the turnover of (Luisita) to farm worker-beneficiaries by June 2014. We are committed to distributing the land to farm worker-beneficiaries at the end of the extended Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARPER). This is a matter of principle and not just a campaign promise.”

Do you support the current version of the reproductive health bill? If not, which provisions would you want changed and what changes would you want instituted?

“I cannot in good conscience say that (overpopulation) does not exist (in order) to appease the more conservative elements in our society. (Getting) their support should be secondary to espousing something that I believe in and that I think is right… I’m being labeled today as an abortionist for espousing education. But I’d rather defend (what) I think is right…”

“In 1986, the Philippine population was only around 50 million; in less than 25 years, we have arguably gone well beyond 90 million. Allowing our population to bloat at such an alarming pace suggests that we will not be in a position to maximize our resources or ensure that the basic needs of every citizen are met.”

(Note: Noynoy strongly supports the RH bill because he feels that it is ultimately critical for our national survival. However, it should be noted that he did
not co-author the bill and has some reservations about specific provisions. The bill in its present form should be revised so it can focus more effectively on providing people with the ability to make informed choices about the future of their own families. This is primarily why he thinks the Reproductive Health bill should be renamed the Responsible Parenthood bill. He is also not in favor of abortion.)

Specific questions for Sen. Benigno Aquino III

What legislative initiatives are you proudest of, and why?

* Congressional Oversight Committee (House Resolution No. 788): creating a Congressional Oversight Committee to check and study the use of intelligence funds by government agencies. This would ensure that allocated funds are actually used for the purposes they were originally intended for.

* The Budget Impoundment and Control Act (SB 3121): impoundment refers to the power of the President to refuse the release of funds appropriated by Congress. Regrettably, this power has been used and abused by the President and, as a result, Congress’ ability to check the President’s authority has been significantly emasculated. Noynoy filed this bill so the President would have to pass through Congress every time s/he decides to impound part of the budget.

* Preservation of Public Infrastructures (SB 2035): this bill seeks to raise standards in the construction of all public infrastructures by penalizing contractors of defective infrastructures. It also requires the Bureau of Maintenance under the DPWH to conduct periodic inspections of public infrastructures.

* Amending the Government Procurement Act (SB 2160): this applies to all government procurement activities, regardless of source of funds, whether local or foreign; only treaties or international/executive agreements entered into by the government prior to its enactment should be exempt from its coverage. The bill was filed in light of the DOJ declaration regarding the validity of the NBN-ZTE deal, where its international aspect, as well as the fact that it was an executive agreement, was cited as one reason for its exemption from the procurement process stipulated in RA 9184.

Why is there a scarcity of successful legislative initiatives in your political resume? What political and work philosophies did you bring to the legislature?

“The Philippines already has decent laws. Some countries have even used some of our laws as the basis for crafting their own legislation. What is far more critical is the
implementation gap, which is ultimately beyond the scope of the legislative branch alone. Often, the gap has to do with corruption itself.”

Just how do you solve the problem of Hacienda Luisita?

“I would ultimately like to transfer Luisita to the farmer-beneficiaries themselves. The question is: how to transfer the assets without passing on debts that have been incurred? Unfortunately, the corporation’s financial obligations have surpassed its income, thereby incurring debts. But the turnover should be ‘debt-free’ to allow the farmers to begin without any financial baggage.”

“At P 10.00 per square meter, that would be P 4.5 billion for 4,500 hectares. That would certainly take care of our debts… But if we do that, the 10,000 farmers will only get less than one hectare and that would not be enough for a single individual, much less an entire family, to live on. It would not necessarily be in the best interests of the 10,000 farmer-beneficiaries…”

“In working out a solution on the Luisita issue, 75% of the shareholders of HLI, which would include the farmer-beneficiaries, should agree to any plan.” (Note: only 1/32 of Luisita stock shares actually belong to Noynoy himself, so he does not necessarily exercise direct influence over the rest of the shareholders.)

How do you intend to solve the country's fiscal deficit without raising taxes? Is an anti-corruption campaign enough to wipe away the deficit? How soon would the nation see the effects of your anti-corruption campaign?

“In addressing the looming fiscal crisis, good governance and the drive against corruption are critical components of our strategy. We will refrain from imposing new taxes or increasing tax rates. I strongly believe that we can collect more taxes at the BIR and higher duties at Customs if we become more serious in curbing and punishing tax evasion and smuggling. The BIR’s collection dropped by 5.5%, while that of Customs declined by 16.6%. This is the first time in recent history that absolute revenues have actually declined.”

What would your working style be like as Chief Executive?

“As much as possible, I’d like to base my major decisions on a consultative process throughout, and keep myself open to constructive feedback. With judicial reforms and regular monitoring of the bureaucracy, I hope to instill professionalism and a checks and balances system as an integral aspect of my working style. People power in one form or another, as well as a positive approach, will be nurtured...”

What are your fondest personal memories of your father and mother?

“I have vivid memories of going horseback-riding with my father in Baguio as a child – we had a lot of fun…”

On his father’s death: “there was a time when the New Testament in the Bible didn’t apply to me. I felt a deep sense of rage at the marked injustice that had been my father’s life. But when I finally came home and saw how people had responded to his death, I began to feel faith, humility and a deep appreciation once again…”

On his mother: “above all, I remember her kindness and thoughtfulness throughout…”

What are your favorite rest and recreation activities? Who usually accompanies you in these?

“I enjoy music, billiards, shooting and both Chinese and Japanese food. I tend to be surrounded by people…”

Describe each of your sisters and the role each plays in your life. If you win the Presidency, what roles would each sister play? Who would step in as official hostess?

“Ballsy is the a
te, the second mother, the family sounding-board. Pinky is my hyperactive sibling. Viel is steady and quiet, while Kris tends to speak her mind…”

There seems to be discord among the disparate forces supporting your candidacy. How do you navigate the political, class and ideological fault lines?

“This is inevitable, since most of my supporters are voluntary. But I have already begun to reach out to those who came forward and volunteered when I first announced my candidacy -- beyond the circle of political veterans I have known throughout my entire political career.”

Personal essay

I had to admit I did have misgivings about re-entering this fray. Would it even be worth the compromises I would have to make as I left behind an almost idyllic existence in Manhattan? Why had I cast my lot with a politician who arguably had less experience than both my mother and uncle during their early years in public service?

I had, in fact, shunned public life entirely and had left the Philippines for good at the height of my uncle’s presidential administration. As I recall, the entire experience had been vaguely asphyxiating. As an end in itself, political power has never particularly impressed me, and I was certainly not enamored with the methods many deployed in their frenetic efforts to gain access to the power center. And I had seen them all -- power brokers full of hubris and a sense of entitlement, sycophants currying favor with all sides, self-righteous and embittered pseudo-Leftists (the most bourgeois of them all, I later discovered), political candidates (disingenuous, mostly) peddling truth and enlightenment even as they signed off the country to the highest bidder, misogynists of every cast and temper, and vicious gossip as the one unifying thread throughout… In a word, politics (as opposed to political analysis) was not exactly my idea of an illustrious universe. I much preferred a private life surrounded by art, literature and a handful of genuine friends…

But I suppose you might say that watching GMA’s shenanigans from afar had finally changed all that for good. For me, after Garci, there had simply been no turning back. By the time those gruesome images of Ondoy’s excoriating fury (with nary a life-boat in sight, for most) had been indelibly imprinted upon my brain, I was in a quiet state of rage. I knew I had to do
something, which is when, I suppose, it dawned on me that I could try to write FVR, my uncle, a letter. Not, mind you, that I had any illusions about my abilities to dissuade or encourage him either way, but I loved him dearly and knew that, in his heart of hearts, he would one day understand that engagement was ultimately an act of respect. I had no way of knowing then how many people would respond to that fateful letter ( More importantly, it was the first time I had enunciated -- even to myself -- my decision to support Noynoy Aquino.

So why did I choose Noynoy and why did I risk what would eventually become, for a while at least, a pretty major fall-out within the family? Was this man even worth the cousins and nieces and aunts who had been distressed and inadvertently wounded by my statement -- emphatic as it was -- that enough was finally enough? How did I know at that stage in the game that he even held any promise? To his credit, my uncle had been the one family member who continued to respond to my constructive criticisms with the largesse of a consummate professional. While he may not have fully understood the fine art of blogging at the time, he certainly recognized that some of my insights were valid, although he did make it a point to correct me when he thought my readings were slightly off-kilter. If anything, the epistolary relationship that grew out of this exchange has strengthened our bond even more…

But the point is: why would I go out of my way for Noynoy, of all people? Why not Gibo, that golden boy from Harvard, or Villar, the self-made Tondo lad whose ability to amass a colossal fortune suggested a financial brilliance that was both astonishing and rare? And why not Erap, the dapper don whose extra-curricular relationships -- ever the bane of his harassed presidential security staff -- continued to remain charming in a creepy sort of way? Or Gordon, uncontrollable temper and human rights record notwithstanding, who had managed to turn Olongapo around almost single-handedly? Then of course there was Nicky Perlas, whose inability to communicate the most basic ideas had certainly not diminished the solidity of his environmental street cred; and, finally, Bro Eddie, who had somehow managed to command the loyalty of some rather impressive human beings I happened to know…

So why Noynoy, whom we had barely heard a peep from (or so I thought) until his mother’s death? Well, I suppose you might say that my choice ultimately had to do with how I view democracy itself. To my mind, the demographics in our country are such that this election is ultimately not going to be determined by classes A, B or even C. Given existing birth rates, it’s all about parts of C, and most of D and E. So whether or not I happen to like Perlas’ qualifications, say, it’s really not about people like me, see. In the end, it has to do with what the largest voting blocs in this country decide. And however much Gordon’s writers might viciously malign other writers who happen to be associated with Noynoy, it doesn’t change the realpolitik bottom line: whether we like it or not, ladies and gentlemen, this happens to be a two-way race, period. This is not to say that there are no spoilers, but even they are not going to significantly affect the numbers. Accepting this fact has less to do with pandering to popularity and ultimately more to do with
respecting the will of the people, in my view. Ideally, they will make educated choices. But, either way, this restaurant is only serving up two dishes, and it’s either Noynoy or Villar, so the sooner we accept that fact, the better it will be for everybody. If you happen to believe in democracy (and I fervently do), then you will have to accept that, barring excessive cheating, the demos has already spoken. Going for another candidate, at this point, is to waste one’s vote, in my view, not unlike those who had voted for Nader against Gore, inadvertently helping Bush, Jr. Had Gibo left the ruling party long ago and established his own political personality, I might have even voted for him – but the fact is, see, he didn’t...

Indeed, of the major candidates, Noynoy is the only one who has consistently critiqued GMA for years. To be sure, the silence of Villar, Gibo and Gordon on the matter of GMA’s performance has been all but deafening. What does this suggest about who they are and what they stand for? Whether or not Villar and Gordon happen to be in cahoots with GMA, one would have at least hoped that they would behave like the opposition candidates that they are and, well, take the President to task every once in a while… So I can unabashedly say that the first thing I genuinely respect about Noynoy is the fact that he is unafraid to speak his mind, even at the risk of displeasing monolithic interests, whether they happen to be the administration, the Catholic Church, legal circles or public opinion itself. His position on the replacement of Chief Justice Puno is a case in point.

That quiet courage (occasionally a bold conviction) is tempered by an unassailable sense of integrity. He has never once been suspected of being involved in anything corrupt. To my mind, we need a leader with such a reputation who can set a moral tone throughout government.

The one issue that his opponents and cause-oriented groups have continued to milk is Luisita, but an examination of the facts indicates that his share is indeed fairly insignificant. And however imperfect CARP, CARPER and the entire fractured legacy of land reform in this country might be, it cannot all be reasonably placed at Noynoy’s doorstep. He cannot be held responsible for Fernando Cojuangco’s statements or the NYT’s decision to only look at a polarity of interests (namely, a landowner, on the one hand, and an Anakpawis representative, on the other; not that there is anything inherently problematic with either, but they most certainly don’t represent the complex range of interests in the Luisita case, nor do they adequately reflect the Aquino family’s perspective).

Of course it can be argued that the failure of land reform in the Philippines has to do precisely with the interests of big landowners, who ultimately tend to block reform. But it would seem to me that the only things Noynoy can do, as a shareholder (short of holding a gun to the other shareholders’ heads), is to continue to strive to disengage from Luisita with those members of his immediate family who fully support him; the only other thing, as a government official who is not yet president, is to fight corruption and tax evasion so that agrarian reform might be more fully and successfully implemented in the long-term. It would seem to me, at any rate, that this is exactly what he’s been trying to do. In fact, instead of holding on to land he could be holding on to, he has essentially offered to give it up altogether: the day the rest of his social class follows suit will be a revolutionary day indeed for this semi-feudal country of ours…

I suppose you might say that courage and integrity are the most important issues to me because of my mother’s example. In living the life that she has led, she taught me that it is still possible to be a successful politician in this country without becoming corrupt. Her inviolable sense of honor happens to be the one legacy I am most proud of. Chatting with Noynoy, it suddenly struck me that his quiet, unassuming manner reminded me a little of her… If anything, his home is modest and simple, and clearly has no unnecessary frills. It is, indeed, a far cry from the homes of many politicians I’ve seen, and conveys a great deal about his scrupulous honesty.

I also appreciate the types of bills he has filed: they are clearly reform-oriented in very overarching ways. It comes as no great surprise that Noynoy became a strict fiscalizer in his time, focusing more on accountability in government appropriations and spending than anything else. Among the measures he pushed for were greater restrictions on exemptions to the requirement of public bidding and strengthening legislative oversight over executive spending. He also sought to tighten congressional oversight on the executive’s use of public funds.

More importantly, if one studies the actual bills he filed and the quality of thinking that has gone into what are clearly pro-reform views, what is more striking is how many of them were not passed. How is it that none of these (arguably stellar) initiatives -- on PNP reform; an increase in penalties for corporations and work establishments not compliant with minimum wage; the banning of reappointments to the Judicial and Bar Council; the prevention of reappointments and bypassing of the Commission on Appointments; real property valuation based on international standards; and superior responsibility for senior military officers, who are ultimately responsible for their own subordinates -- had been passed? Had they been
blocked, I had to ask? These were after all not the kind of trivial initiatives one might associate with certain legislators, for instance, and could certainly have benefited the country as a whole…

Noynoy agreed with my reading, noting that the job of an effective legislator goes beyond merely proposing laws. After all, legislators have the responsibility to ensure that the checks and balances system in our government is at work as well. But he had clearly pitted himself against the administration in a score of privileged speeches that questioned the government’s alleged human rights abuses (with respect to the
desaparecidos, informal settlers, marginalized groups and extrajudicial killings). He has also continued to question the misuse of public funds (ZTE-NBN, “Euro Generals” and Fertilizer Fund, etc.). So it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if he had rubbed the administration the wrong way, which would certainly explain why so many of his initiatives never saw the light of day. Clearly, he would have been threatening to many in the establishment, which further sheds light on why he was stripped of his post as Deputy Speaker for Luzon after he called for GMA’s resignation at the height of the “Hello, Garci” scandal…

So this was not about the re-filing of insignificant bills, and I certainly appreciated the assiduousness with which he doggedly pursued specific issues close to his heart, as well as his tenacity when it came to protecting his sisters….

Like all of us, of course, he is far from perfect. If there is anything I am somewhat critical of, it is how he has allowed the conflicting interest groups around him to position themselves. I am well aware that his, too, was a midnight appointment, if you will, while other forces had invested years in pushing for a Mar presidency. I also have a great deal of respect for Mar and consider him to be highly qualified. But if the surveys, funders and public response were such that it was finally deemed more expedient to have Noynoy take on the mantle, then everyone, in my humble opinion, should simply adjust accordingly, period. It is absurd for Mar to magnanimously step down while some of his more ardent supporters remain ambivalent about his decision.

Ultimately, of course, Noynoy has the command responsibility of keeping these diverse interests in line and instilling a sense of party discipline in everyone. Personally, I strongly believe in having a professional approach towards one’s political party. After all, in the end, we’re a team. Perhaps my worldview is borne of my experiences at the UN, and my affiliations have less to do with specific personalities than with specific
causes. At this point, Noynoy happens to be closest to the ones I hold most dear….

I first had a sense of this lack of organization and discipline in September of last year, when I had written someone in the party from abroad to offer to help raise funds in the US. Like a great many people (some of whom are far more eminent and qualified than myself) who had offered to help, I received no response. Now this was not about a desire for recognition on the part of many; instead, it had to do with fund-raising or voter registration that could have been done, but wasn’t. A great many volunteers have walked away because they feel their views have not been adequately considered or respected; that, precisely, Noynoy’s success in this election very much depends upon his ability to look beyond his
cordon sanitaire so he can understand and reflect the will of the people.

But are these high crimes and misdemeanors? Hardly. If this is all that can be said of Noynoy, then I would suggest that we’re still in pretty good shape. These issues, after all, form part and parcel of party/institution-building, and are inevitable in young, postcolonial democracies such as ours.

And, however amorphous and chaotic it might be, it is infinitely preferable to have a party culture such as this, rather than one in which only Mr. Villar, his wife and their sons get to call the shots. Infinitely preferable to have conflicting interests, still, than to watch a candidate slowly morphing into a cross between Thaksin and Berlusconi (

Perhaps Noynoy has resonated with such a startling number of Filipinos because he is an Every Man who precisely doesn’t come across as a bull-shit artist. At his mother’s funeral, people saw a man who was forthright and simple, and one who didn’t grandstand in his sorrow. Almost, if you will, an ethical version of Erap. Or a Ramon Magsaysay: down-home, occasionally corny, but certainly not pretentious or elitist.

As cultural theorist Marian Pastor Roces confided: “As the Tagalogs would put it,
magaan sa dibdib. Mababa ang loob. Nagpapatotoo. The choice of this sort of human being is consistent with both cultural and historical notions of leadership in pre-Islamic, pre-Christian Southeast Asia… There is a large layer of our society that chooses leaders for qualities of a good loob: tapat, makatotohanan, matapang, malumanay, magalang. Between the 1980s and Cory’s funeral, there was no leader who exhibited these qualities, and Filipinos voted instead for magaling (FVR) and maka-kapwa (Erap). But they rejected GMA for being none of the above.”

The phenomenon of people power -- for all its vague and perplexing aspects – is one that Noynoy apparently understands at a deeply intuitive level. The prospect of tapping into it once again after EDSA 1 was certainly beguiling. Not for the sake of Cory and Ninoy, but for that of a much younger man (a relation, as it happens, but clearly not one who was bereft of his own convictions) -- one whose sense of vision meant that monopolies, bloated government interests and extra-judicial killings were all mightily and single-handedly being taken to task. In which case, I was exactly where I needed to be at this historic moment: as I continued writing in this gritty, fetid and occasionally glorious city, the one word that continued to hum insistently in my brain was


Lila Ramos Shahani
March, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Concentric Rings? -- Private musings on Manny, money and a national apocalypse

Part I: Personal net worth -- a case of perjury or money-laundering?

“When I travel, I don’t charge the government, although it’s allowed because it is work-related. I pay my own way. When you are this big, you have to follow the rules. You can’t afford not to, because all eyes are on you. It is not a wise business practice to use government perks. I’ll serve the three terms (allowed by the Constitution). After that, I’ll think about the future. But I’ll stop at being a congressman.” -- Senator Manny Villar

There was no doubt about it: the C5 issue had been troubling enough on its own merits. The scale of its core allegation -- that an esteemed solon had willfully deployed public funds for his own personal benefit – had been nothing short of vertiginous. The masterful studies by both Winnie ( and Jamby ( conveyed volumes, as had Joker’s allegations of conflicts of interest a decade before ( The latter’s recent (and arguably dubious) shift in tone notwithstanding, a seed of doubt had already begun to nestle in the public mind.

Still, there were other issues those lengthy readings had failed to shed light upon. Looking at Villar’s own C5 Primer and his Senate speech on 2 Feb 2010, one wonders at that controversial 2008 P 200M budget insertion, which had been initially embargoed by the DBM, but was subsequently used for the Sucat flyover after it was realized that the C5 extension was in fact a dead-end road. Had there even been an existing “program of work” so as to justify the term “double insertion”? What we have on record, in fact, is an admission by Engineer Adriano (the consultant for Villar-owned businesses who had allegedly dictated the Villar amendment to the 2008 national budget; this, at least, was according to Yolanda Doblon, Director General of the LBRMO, the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office in the Senate) that the amount had been arbitrarily made in anticipation of the fact that the original P 200M would most likely be reduced; the superfluous P 200M may have been added after the dead-end realization had been made, prompting Villar to use the embargoed funds.

GMA supposedly instructed DPWH to submit the study to use the embargoed funds for the fly-over only after the budget allocation had already been made, thereby effectively providing a “program of work” to justify the release of funds. Needless to say, this is highly irregular: in established funding practice, a program of work is usually submitted before. Does this suggest that the additional P 200M had been retroactively added to ultimately “free up” a hitherto unprogrammed amount?

Adriano, a Villar real estate employee, had been put in a critical legislative role. And while there have been indications that, as a Lower House representative, Villar had put some of his employees on the congressional payroll, Adriano himself was apparently not on the Senate payroll. So why was he dealing with LBRMO in the first place? And why does Committee Report 780 contain several admissions indicating position and knowledge with respect to the 2008 budget allocations? Separate documents also tag Adriano as the sole contact person authorized to “deal” with government agencies and the courts (DAR, NIA, lower courts, a Malacañang employee, LGUs, etc.: does this suggest bribery?) before specific Villar company interests could even be addressed.

This is not to quibble over minor details after the fact. But there was no doubt about it, as I said: there had been dubious business practices all round. So who was this Manny Villar and how had he managed to amass wealth that was nothing short of stratospheric in so short a span of time? According to PCIJ, after only 14 years in government, Villar's net worth had risen to P 1.05B in 2007 or to a staggering 1,292% increase from his assets in 1992:

In order to assess this "sipag at tiyaga" phenomenon as fairly as I knew how, I decided to investigate him myself, and to separate both propaganda and polemic, on the one hand, from what could be empirically verified, on the other. I began to think in terms of a concentric circle: at the center of the circle, I would look at his
personal finances (ultimately the measure of a man, one might say), before examining his land dealings in specific regions (as the circle expanded outwards) and, finally, his national/international endeavors on a larger scale (the outermost rim of the circle itself).

The personal: Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth

So I began with his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN). The documents studied (with the help of two gifted accountants, two lawyers and several highly-placed financial analysts, not to mention a handful of deeply committed patriots who patiently withstood my incessant questions and valiantly wore as many hats as were needed at any given moment) are copies of SALNs filed in the Philippine Senate. The difficulties in accessing them notwithstanding, they are technically a matter of public record. They cover an 8-year period (2001-2008, inclusive) because the 2009 SALN is only due for filing on 30 April 2010.

Anyone who has had to draw up a balance sheet or assess their own personal net worth will tell you that it can be a royal pain in the neck. But those insufferable categories and dreadful numbers notwithstanding, none of it, really, is rocket science. In a nutshell, it’s simply a snapshot of your financial health in any given year. The net worth statement includes what is owned (assets) on the left side of the sheet, what is owed to creditors (liabilities) on the right side of the sheet, and the net value (or difference) between what is owned and what is owed (net worth). Unless you’re a vagabond or happen to be fabulously wealthy, you generally have both A&L.

So what do Mr Villar’s SALNs indicate? (The SALNs from 2001 to 2008 can be accessed here:;;;;;;;;;; and the columnar numerical analysis)? The assets reported consist of only three main types:

a) Real Properties: i) Land/Buildings
b) Investment in Shares of Stock
c) Personal Properties: i) Cash in Bank; ii) Receivables; and iii) Other Personal Properties

Please note that this analysis is based on “acquisition cost” or “book value,” as reported in the SALNs. To simplify the analysis, the cost of living and personal expenses of someone of his stature and wealth have not been considered. A comprehensive reading no longer requires Cynthia Villar’s SALNs because they are, in fact and law, only one economic unit. The 2007 and 2008 SALNs were also jointly filed by the spouses, which means that the net worth indicated is in fact their joint net worth.

General Observations

* No liabilities were reported at all: ergo, net worth = assets, which means that he had nothing to pay off.

* His net worth from 2001 to 2008 increased by P 641,133,934, or 133%, making his 2008 Net worth 258% of his 2001 net worth.

*According to several published reports (please see the PCIJ reference below for an example), he started with a networth of P 75M when he first entered politics as a Congressman in 1992. In a span of 16 years, therefore, he managed to increase his net worth by over 1000 percent!

*The biggest increase can be found in his Personal Properties -- P 618,363,371, or 309%, making his 2008 Personal Properties 409% of those in 2001.

*An increase in net worth suggests that he made or realized income in the previous years equal to at least the amount of the increase, considering that he has had no liabilities.

*There is, however, no indication that he made such an income, nor is it suggested how this might have even been possible. As a Philippine senator, his declared salary is only P426,500.

Real Properties

* Real properties generally refer to real estate or immovable properties.

* In 2001, he reported only the following Real Properties at acquisition cost:

Residential, BFRV

Las Pinas: P 3, 181, 089

Residential, BF Vista Grande: 80, 000

Residential, BF Int’l LPC: 50, 000

Residential, Putatan, Muntinlupa: 446, 370

Residential, San Nicolas, Cavite: 337, 360

Residential, Naga Rd., LPC: 500, 000

Total: P4, 594, 819

* From 2002-2006, he declared the same properties, but at the aggregate acquisition cost of P4,588,619 (lower by only P6,200, so -- for the purposes of this analysis -- the lower figure is used).

* In 2007, this figure suddenly ballooned to P 19,518,532, or by 425% of the 2001 level. In absolute terms, this is an increase of P14, 929, 913.

* The 6 real properties listed from 2001-2006 became 38 parcels/pieces in 2007. These are the same properties declared in 2008. Reportedly, they are registered under the names of:

Cynthia alone, 10 parcels: P 5, 794, 232

Manny alone, 6 parcels: 2, 600, 500

The Spouses jointly, 8 parcels: 5, 503, 060

“Cynthia, married to Manny”: 14 parcels, 5, 620, 740

Total: P19, 518, 532

* There is no way to determine from the face of the SALN alone if the 6 properties he declared from 2001-2006 are the same 6 properties listed in his name in Annex “A;” for one, they are different in value/acquisition cost as those previously reported (PHP 2,600,000 v. 4,588,619 in 2002-2006). Those reported in 2001-2006 are listed by location; those in 2007-2008 are listed by title number and area, so an accurate comparison is difficult. However, since the aggregate acquisition cost of these properties in 2001-2006 are not much different from the 2007-2008 values, it may be safely assumed that the 6 properties in MV’s name are the same 6 properties he declared in 2001-2006.

* The rest of the listed properties – those registered under “Cynthia A. Villar m/to Manuel B. Villar,” and those registered in their joint names – are conjugal: should they therefore not have been declared in his SALNs from the outset as well? It is after all highly unlikely that they were only acquired in 2007, in view of the acquisition/book values that were given.

* Considering the values/amounts reported, it is equally unlikely that the Laurel Property on Shaw Blvd. (currently the NP HQ) is included in this list. This property is widely-known as having been acquired by Mr Villar and his wife: in a PDI article by Gerry Lirio in July 2008 (, conversations with Cynthia on their purchase of the property are quoted, including their plans regarding the property, renovation costs of P4M, and the private dinner they shared when they first moved in, etc. Does this, too, suggest misrepresentation and therefore perjury? It should be remembered that we are after all required by law to declare all our assets and liabilities without any exclusions: any misrepresentation is considered to be perjury, which is a criminal offense.

Investment in Shares of Stock

* From 2001-2008, he declared Investments in Shares of Stock in a lump sum amount of P200, 837, 890 – no breakdown and no changes.

* In 2007, he itemized in Annex B.2.1 of his SALN the following “Investment Items” at “Book value” (i.e., acquisition cost):

Shares of Stock, Adelfa Properties: P 99, 997, 000

Shares of Stock, Fine Properties: 98, 000, 000

Shares of Stock, MB Villar Co: 1, 000, 000

Shares of Stock, Macy’s Inc: 500, 000

Shares of Stock, Mooncrest Properties: 1, 340, 890

Total: P200, 837, 890

Could this really have been all? Where were the shares in the other companies? Indeed, had Mr Villar not gone out of his way to declare his enormous wealth to all and sundry? So why is it not in the books, one is compelled to ask?

Since the total value of the foregoing investments is also P200,837,890 -- the same amount he reported from 2001-2006 as "Investments" -- and the companies are also the same companies he reported in 2001-2006 as those in which he and his wife had “business interests and financial connections,” is it not more likely that he is referring to the very same investments (which remained unchanged from 2001-2008) here?

In 2007, his investments in shares of stock increased by P7,846,850, although they remained unchanged in 2008. These consist of the following items:

Shares of Stock, PLDT: 10,600

Shares of Stock, Sun Life: (no value given)

Club share, Alabang Country Club: 1, 100, 000

Club Share, The Country Club: 4, 150, 000

Club Share, Quezon City Sports Club: 150, 000

Club Share, Tower Club: 356, 250

Club Share, Sta. Elena Golf Club: 1, 800, 000

Club Share, Camp John Hay Golf Club: 280, 000

Total: P 7, 846, 850

Based on the reported values of the “additional” investments above (which were at acquisition cost), it is improbable that they were acquired only in 2007; given real estate values, it is more likely that they were acquired much earlier, but were reported in his SALN only in 2007. Could this be another ground for perjury?

* From 2001-2008, he has consistently declared only 5 companies in which he and his wife have an interest: Fine Properties, Adelfa Properties, MB Villar Co., Macy’s Inc. and Mooncrest Properties. So where and how does Vista Land relate to these companies? What is his connection to, and interest in, Vista Land? And what of other companies associated with him or otherwise referred to by him in press statements as “his” company/ies? This, I thought, bore further scrutiny (please note the following SEC documents: Adelfa Properties GIS; Brittany Corp GIS; C and P Homes GIS; Fine Properties GIS; and Vista Land and Landscapes).

* Of course, as a highly-placed hedge fund insider later qualified: "an analysis of the SEC filings of Vista Land (VLL) indicate that VLL is 35.83%-owned by Fine, 22.48%-owned by Adelfa, 5.35%-owned by Polar and 2.12%-owned by ML&H Corp., or at least 65.78%-owned by holding companies that were all controlled by MV/CV. Fine is nearly 100%-owned by MV (51%) and CV (~49%); Adelfa is 39%-owned by the spouses and 51%-owned by a company called Althorp Holdings. I assume that the remainder comprises most of the public float. I am also assuming that the Villars or Villar-controlled entities (i) control Althorp; and (ii) own enough additional shares to take the Villars’ aggregate controlled shareholdings in VLL to more than the 2/3 supermajority threshold. In short, there is no need for MV/CV to directly own VLL shares if he already controls the companies that own a controlling stake in VLL (itals mine)."

* The C-5 Report should also be considered, given its core allegation, precisely, that he used his position to allocate funds for the road that traversed and benefited “his” housing subdivisions. According to the C-5 Report, Adelfa Properties, which is owned by Mr Villar and his wife Cynthia, owns Brittany Corporation (formerly Azalea), together with Vista Land and Paolo Villar, MV’s son. Vista Land, on the other hand, is also owned by Adelfa and MV’s sons Paolo and Mark. Adelfa further owns Golden Haven Memorial Park. Brittany, Vista Land and Golden Haven are therefore 100% owned by MV and his family indirectly, through Adelfa. These companies -- Adelfa, Brittany and Golden Haven -- all sold properties to the government as right of way for the C-5 Project.

Personal properties

* As stated earlier, this is where the most dramatic increases in his net worth can be found:

Amount/Value Increase YoY % Increase
Increase 2001: 200,085,040

2002: 274,868,165 74,783,125 37.37%

2003: 325,798,839 50,930,674 18.53%

2004: 415,327,318 89,528,479 27.5%

2005: 554,398,826 139,071,508 33.48%

2006: 710,225,075 155,826,249 28.1%

2007: 813,180,674 102,955,599 14.5%

2008: 818,448,411 5,267,737 .65%

* Cumulatively, from 2001-2008, the increase in absolute terms is P618,363,371 – or a three-fold increase (309%) over an 8-year period – making his 2008 declaration 409% of the 2001 values.

* From 2001-2004, these were simply reported as “Personal Properties;” in 2005-2006, as “Other Real and Personal Properties.” Here, too, we observe no details or itemization.

*In 2007, “Other Personal Properties” were itemized as follows:

Cash in Bank (SA/CA/TD): P 24, 573, 990

Receivables: 701, 106, 684

Other Personal and Real Properties: 87, 500, 000

Total: P 813, 180, 674

(See Annex B.2.2 of his 2007 SALN)

In 2008, “Other Personal Properties” were:

Cash in Bank P 29, 212, 803

Receivables & Other Personal & Real Properties 789, 235, 608

Total: P 818, 448, 411

(See Annex B.2.2 of his 2008 SALN)

* It is unfortunate that he lumped “Receivables” with “Other Personal and Real Properties” in 2008, so no assessment can be made about whether “Receivables” increased in 2008. For the purposes of the ensuing analysis, the 2007 figure of P 701,106,684 will therefore be used. Taken together with the rest of his assets, receivables – even at the amount of P701,106,684 declared in 2007 -- comprise more than half of his entire net worth! (Receivables of P701,106,684 divided by his 2008 net worth of P1,046,651, 683 = 67%).

* It is intriguing, to say the least, that he would have receivables in the first place. Remember, this is money one is expecting to receive. This category is usually reported by business enterprises, like corporations and single proprietorships, and arises from sales on credit or loans extended in the course of business. But is he actually running a business as a single proprietor? Is he selling goods or services, where it is customary to sell on credit; or is he engaged in the business of a lending investor, pawnshop or some such enterprise, where he would tend to extend credit or loans? If so, should he not have reported in his SALN that he is a single proprietor/individual engaged in business? As far as we know, he deals only through corporations – like those 5 companies he declared in his SALN, in which he has “business interests or financial connections.”

* What could this imply? The only plausible explanation is that he extended personal loans, year after year, to unspecified parties, or had money claims with these parties, as would give rise to such receivables. If this is the case, to whom did he lend or from whom does he have money claims, and why? Is this not a matter of public interest, considering the enormous size of his “receivables”? Indeed, a typical rural bank outside of Metro Manila and other urban centres, such as Cebu or Davao, might not even have a loan portfolio this sizeable.

* More significantly, if he lent money, where and how did he get the funds to lend? If he has money claims, what is the underlying obligation of the supposed debtor/s? Logic – and the causal connection between creditor and debtor – dictates that he must have had a source for the moneys he lent out and, since he had no reported liabilities, he must have generated enough income to lend. As stated earlier, an increase in net worth -- where, as in this case, there are no liabilities -- presupposes that income was earned to the extent, at least, of the increase in net worth itself. So where and how did Mr Villar get the money?

* The increase in his net worth could not have come from the following:

a) The sale of real properties: he reported 6 in 2001-2006, with fair market value -- by his own report in the SALN – of P4,012,760 (2006 SALN), and there are still 6 in his 2007-2008 SALN registered in his name alone. Moreover, as of 2008, his Real Properties included 32 “additional” parcels/pieces.

b) The sale of shares in his companies: shareholdings in the 5 companies he declared remained constant from 2001-2008; there was therefore no change.

c) Stock market transactions in quick deals; i.e, he bought and sold “short term” (could this have been margin trading?): if he had invested in the stock market, should he not have declared these investments in his SALN? Apart from his shares in the 5 companies and the club shares in various golf and country clubs, there were no other such investments declared. Assuming that he bought and sold in quick succession such that, as of the end of each year, he had no other shares than those he held in the 5 companies (hence, no other stock investments to declare in the SALN), could he have made so much on these deals without having first sunk in a significant investment so as to enable him to take such positions in the first place?

d) He could have also earned interest on his bank deposits but, given the level and nature of his declared Cash in Bank in 2007-2008 of less than P30M, the interest income could not have been that significant.

* So where was the increase coming from? In a newscast aired on 10 February 2010, he declared that the increase in his net worth came from dividends ( If so, these dividends (a sum of money paid to shareholders of a corporation out of company earnings) must have only come from the 5 companies he declared. Records obtained, however, indicate that, of these 5, only Fine Properties was reported to have declared dividends of P196,000,000 on 2 December 2006. This is certainly very far from the net increase in his net worth from 2001-2008 of P618 M+.

* Even assuming that his companies had in fact declared dividends, it would appear that they have not been paid out – hence the term “receivables.” This suggests that he does not have the funds on hand, and only has the expectation that these “receivables” will be converted into cash in due course. If so, how could he have over a billion pesos “of his own money,” which he has openly admitted to having spent on his campaign and that of the NP's?

* In any case, regardless of the source of the increase in his net worth, should he not have paid income taxes on them? Did he in fact do so? Dividends constructively received by individuals are subject to a final tax of 10% of the gross amount, to be withheld by the corporation-declarant. Assuming that the P700M+ “receivables” are dividends, the withholding tax would be at least P70M. BIR insiders (who were apparently too apprehensive to go on record) have privately suggested that nothing near this amount has been paid in taxes, although this has yet to be verified. Still, as this is a matter of public interest, perhaps we could prevail upon Mr Villar to address these insinuations and clear his record once and for all?

* The considerations above strongly suggest that he may have deliberately “inflated” his net worth with the ingenious use of receivables to justify his widely-publicized wealth and the billions he is now spending on his campaign, which he continues to describe as “his own money.” When “hidden wealth” or “ill-gotten” gains are put through legal channels (like reporting them in the SALN) so they can “surface” as legitimate, can this be considered to be a case of money-laundering? In other words, did he make up those receivables to make it look like he had more assets than he actually did so he would therefore appear to be extremely wealthy, in the hopes that people wouldn't look into how he has been able to finance what has arguably been the most expensive political campaign in Philippine history?

As far as this writer can see, there are only three possible conclusions one might make about his declared assets (what remains undeclared, of course, is another story entirely). Either my assessment is riddled with errors (in which case this also applies to the battery of financial and legal experts/scholars I have had to consult informally) or there's something seriously amiss with his SALNs, in which case he could conceivably be accused of perjury. Otherwise, if my graver suspicions are correct, he could be accused instead of money-laundering. Either way, the implications make the mind reel, and the voter would do well to consider how this might affect the public in the long term (especially the poor, who have arguably lost out in terms of desperately-needed social services). We are after all no longer talking about opportunity cost here but about actual losses to the public purse at a time of serious economic recession; if, as a solon, Mr Villar was able to achieve more than a 1000% increase in his net worth during his few years of "public service," what could happen to our entire social infrastructure if and when -- perish the thought! -- the man becomes President of this embattled republic? Perish the thought, indeed: unlike Dante's inferno, which ultimately leads upwards into the light, MV's concentric circles can only propel us towards a collective abyss from which we may never recover.

A private postscript

Once upon a time -- oh, 24-odd years ago, I think it was, when the unending grief of the Marcos era had finally begun to lift its thick and impenetrable shadow in a youthful clarion call to freedom -- I carried with me a dream that the Philippines would one day be more than just another banana republic, teeming with warlords and armies, oligarchs and monopolies. As I peer yet again upon the threshold of history, this moment gives me pause, and I pray that our voters will be wise enough not to be taken in by glib and facile solutions or appealing personalities bereft of substance; I pray that we boldly defy dishonesty (even as that easy buck is unfailingly served up before us on a gleaming, silver platter) and instead consider sacred -- no matter the personal cost -- this country's future and that of our children's unborn children.


-- M B Villar campaign expenditures and personal finances:

-- C5:

-- Laurel mansion:

-- Poverty: