Above is the famous painting “Pollice Verso” by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Whether it’s an election year or not, contending parties clash in the arena of our institutions, with the public being ultimate judge of which side emerges victorious in the end. There is a gladiatorial aspect to politics, of course: an often brutal slog to achieve acclaim from the crowd, without which one faces political death.
Citizens may look at net worth, on attendance, on voting records, but also, it’s how individual officials handle themselves in the midst of controversy -and the positions they take during the controversy- that allows voters to consider whether to support or oppose candidates and parties.
Both the party Manuel Villar Jr. now heads, and the chamber, the Senate, he once headed and to which he still belongs, have their traditions based on confronting challenges, whether to achieve victory on the issues, or to turn defeat into a kind of victory.
Yesterday’s Senate session ended up as badly as debates in the House of Representatives, as one side adopted the tactics of the administration to sidestep the issues, while the other thundered and shrilled more out of a sense of brittle amor propio than in relentless pursuit of the issue at hand. Miriam Defensor Santiago weighed in today, with what began as an exposition on the rules that were a smokescreen for her abandoning the field of battle. What began as a call for statesmanship and considered debate, end up with her taking a cue from yesterday’s petulance on all sides.
I thought that Joker Arroyo, yesterday, let slip something interesting. If Villar is being charged with using public office for private gain, then why is it, he asked, that there isn’t corresponding scrutiny of the DPWH without whose cooperation Villar’s schemes wouldn’t have come to pass? A valid point, but it was an argument that slipped perilously close to tacitly endorsing the view that Villar is the President’s real candidate (the others are just her decoys is one view; another is that multiple candidates expand the potential of finding one to fully back as the campaign heats up): but no one took up the opportunity to pursue it.
Instead, a petulant obsession with amor propio led to senators charging every time the defenders of Villar waved red capes to deflect attention and to prevent a cohesive case from being presented.
The issues have been joined (see the case of the prosecution in Villar Ethics Presentation and the case for the defense in C5 Primer) by means of Committee Report No. 780 by the Committee of the Whole. You can also see a Summary of Charges. A Vista Land Roadshow Presentation for Australia from October 2007, which focuses on the “Daang Hari Growth Hub” is in harmony with a public statement he made in December of that year (see this Fact Sheet):
In a press release dated 1 December 2007 entitled “Villar leads inauguration of major highway,” he took credit for the P68 Million newly constructed C5- Merville Access Road. The press release stated:
“The 6.10 km road is designed to decongest the main service road networks such as the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), EDSA, Pres.Quirino, MIAA Road networks and Roxas Blvd. It starts from SLEX west service road passes through MIAA Property, RSG Subdivision and Kaingin Road towards Multi-National Avenue and ultimately traverses SM, AMVEL towards Sucat Road in Paranaque City.”
“Villar is also responsible for the Las Pinas-Muntinlupa-Laguna-Cavite (LPMLC) link road, more popularly known as Daang Hari, and the Zapote-Molino Link Road which greatly eased traffic in Cavite.”
But this issue is only one of many. They all revolve around whether or not Villar unduly fostered his financial interests by means of public office, disregarding reasonable limits on the holders of public office (declarations of potential conflict of interest, and divestments). The question was first raised by Joker Arroyo in the House of Representatives in a Privilege Speech on August 17, 1998 (see also the Q&A that followed). Along the way there are other issues that go beyond government contracts, and involve how he has treated commercial rivals and small property owners: the blog The Philippine Experience has focused on related issues in recent months (see, in particular, the entries for December 20, 2009, January 2, 2010, and January 7, 2010).