Villar, the reluctant politician

By Efren L. Danao
The Manila Times

Senate President Manuel Villar had originally wanted to serve only one term as congressman. However, he stayed on to become the top honcho of both the House and the Senate. And considering his walk and talk, he might even go on to preside over the Palace by the Pasig River.

Their family had picked him to run in the 9th Congress (1992 to 1995) in place of his then ailing father-in-law, the late Rep. Flo­rencio Aguilar. He agreed—but only for one term. He was then a leading businessman and he wanted to devote more time to his booming realty business. The call to service, however, was too strong for him to resist and he has not left politics since then. That he excelled in both politics and business shows that he is prac­ticing what he wants the Senate to do—multi-tasking, or undertake investigations in aid of legislation without sacrificing its primary task of lawmaking.

I remember him best in the 9th Congress not only for his silver lock of hair (he now has black hair) but also for his brashness in urging that committee chairmanships be given also to newly elected congressmen. The seniority rule was being imposed by then Speaker Jose de Venecia but Villar protested. He argued that qualifications should be given premium over seniority. Of course, the Speaker’s wishes were followed.

“It is only during my tenure as Speaker that freshmen were allowed to head committees,” Villar said.

He is an achiever but he does not strike me as somebody who is out to get what he wants come what may. My source said that at the start of the 12th Congress, majority senators had a straw vote on who should replace then Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Villar and the late Sen. Rene Cayetano got the most number of votes. They would have shared a three-year term but then, they received a call from President Arroyo urging them to give way to Sen. Franklin Drilon. Rather than insist, SP Villar, along with Rene, gave way to Drilon. Rene and Drilon later agreed to term-sharing, but Rene died before he could enjoy his share.

No hasty moves

SP Villar still refuses to confirm the widely-held belief that he is gunning for the presidency. “2010 is still far away and I believe in timing,” he told me in our hour-long talk at his Senate office.

Indeed, he does not seem to be in a hurry—from the way he talks to the way he is shoring up the Nacionalista Party which he heads. In fact, I’ve been wondering how come I have not heard much news about his efforts to strengthen the NP. Lakas, the Liberal Party and the United Opposition have been all over the country but not the NP. Why?

“We are capable of expanding nationwide if we want to, but this will make future alliances with other political parties more difficult,” he explained.

Rather than establish an NP chapter in every place, SP Villar is concentrating on strengthening areas where the party presence is already deeply felt. He said if he filled up all areas with NP leaders would be running against the leaders of a coalition partner, then the reason for coalescing would be undermined.

Less than a week ago, former President Fidel V. Ramos, the chairman emeritus of Lakas, urged party leaders to consider a possible coalition with NP, the Liberal Party and the Nationalist People’s Coalition. FVR thought that through a coalition, Lakas could expand its possible choices for 2010 candidate. SP Villar said that NP is prepared to coalesce with Lakas. He added that his preference is for the NP to coalesce with opposition parties but it could join forces with Lakas provided its independence is recognized.

He also refuses to identify who could possibly be his running mate. The astute politician that he is, he knows that an immediate choice could torpedo any future negotiations with other political parties.

His drawback

Among the presidential wanna­be’s, SP Villar is the most financially qualified to run a nationwide campaign. The performance of the Senate in the First Regular Session could also boost his standing. However, he has a flaw which could affect public perception of him as a leader. I am referring to his reluctance to give a categorical stand on a controversial issue. I often hear him say “Dalawang bagay lang iyan (there are two possible things),” and then explain: “On one hand . . . On the other hand.” If he could only be one-handed, he would be a more compelling choice. But then, perhaps, he considers it too early to give his stand. As he has said, he believes in timing.

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