COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
It was like a comedy scene yesterday morning when Senate president Manuel “Manny” Villar was clueless while he was being attacked all over radio stations. Opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson was first interviewed in the DZMM radio program of the ABS-CBN tandem of Korina Sanchez and Ted Failon yesterday while we were having our regular breakfast forum at the Tuesday Club at EDSA Shangri-La. Villar was being raked over the coals by Lacson on The STAR headline news that day about the alleged double-entry of a P200-million project that earned the ugly title of “road to nowhere.”
After a long while he has not appeared in our breakfast club, Villar was being ribbed each time a member arrived telling him about the allegations of Lacson against him. Villar was at a loss at first to what he was being linked to. Little did he know that he was tagged as behind the inclusion anew in the proposed 2009 budget of the P200-million C-5 Road extension project from the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) to Sucat Road in Parañaque City.
By the time Villar learned about the very serious allegations hurled against him by Lacson, the usually ice-cool Senator immediately called a press conference at the Senate. Well, I would not be surprised if the Senate president was described as frothing in the mouth in righteous indignation over insinuations that he may have profited from the usual “commissions” earned out of such “insertions” by lawmakers in the budget for their pet projects.
At the Senate hearing Monday, Department of Budget and Management Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. testified under oath that the questioned budget provision was not an initiative from Malacañang Palace but were “congressional insertions” made in the Congress-approved 2008 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
The funny part of this brouhaha was that the camp of Villar even issued a press statement Monday after that Senate budget hearing. In that statement, the Senate president vowed to scrutinize the proposed P1.4 trillion budget for next year to ensure that no dubious funds will be sneaked into the approval of the GAA. As guardians of public funds, Villar committed the Senate to see to it that the proposed P1.4 trillion national budget for 2009 will pass through “a fine-toothed comb to make sure that no public money will go to wasteful and questionable projects that will only fatten the pockets of grafters in government.”
Villar, who happens to be also the Nacionalista Party (NP) president, made this solemn oath. So how could Villar be the author of such “insertion”? At his press conference yesterday, Villar strongly took exceptions to innuendoes of his complicity in the “double-entry” of the C-5 road extension project into the 2009 GAA. Villar explained the C-5 road extension was part of the P2.1-billion project of the Department of Public Works and Highways that he was advocating.
“The 42-km stretch C-5 road is certainly not a road to nowhere as this links the Coastal Road to the SLEX. This will greatly benefit the people in the South of Metro Manila, especially residents of Cavite,” Villar pointed out. This I can attest because I pass in these areas everyday and see monstrous traffic jams at the slightest rains or during El Shaddai prayer rally.
Villar, a successful rags-to-riches boy from Tondo who made good as an entrepreneur to big-time real estate business, has become a natural target after he publicly declared anew last week his intention to run for the May 2010 presidential election. Thus, he must accept the fact he is now a fair game for his rivals.
“I have made known my intention to run for President in 2010 and I anticipate that this will open the floodgates to attacks. I intend to pursue this on a platform of good governance and meaningful reforms in our political system, including an honest-to-goodness crusade against corruption. I will not taint my good name at this stage with involvement in financial shenanigans,” Villar asserted.
Of all the public officials polled for trust rating, Villar got the biggest gain as the most trusted public figure with a seven-percentage point leap from March to July 2008. Pulse Asia’s latest survey shows Villar’s trust rating galloping from 58 percent in March to 65 percent in July this year, or up by seven percentage points.
Villar’s trust improvement is the biggest compared to all public figures included in the survey, which was topped by Sen. Francis Escudero with a 75-percent trust rating from 74 percent for the same period. Coming in next according to this order were: Sen. Loren Legarda with 71 percent (down from 76 percent); Sen. Mar Roxas – 69 percent (from 67 percent); Lacson – 56 percent (from 61 percent); Vice-President Noli de Castro got 53 percent (from 49 percent).
Actually, as early as December last year, Villar already made this declaration in The Starweek Magazine where he was featured back-to-back with Roxas, who had already made known much earlier his desire to run in the 2010 presidential race. What was obviously hurting Villar was the fact that he has been under severe criticisms from Korina Sanchez, who everyone knows, of course, is romantically linked to Sen. Roxas. Although an angry Villar did not say who he was referring to, he challenged his detractors hiding from the skirts of others, or from his own words, “nagtatago sa saya ng iba.” It was in obvious digs at the lovebirds and Lacson.
In fairness, though, to Lacson, it was him who discovered this sleazy attempt of “insertions” in the proposed 2009 budget that the Senate have started to scrutinize while waiting for their House counterparts to submit their approved 2009 GAA. Lacson, however, has been careful to clarify that he was not on the attack against Sen. Villar but was merely asking the Senate President to explain. Lacson, too, has not abandoned his own possible plans to run for the 2010 presidential race.
While may be paved with good intentions, the road ahead for Villar towards the 2010 presidential elections will be a rough one. It’s the same road that everyone else with moist eyes for the presidency would take going to Malacañang Palace.