The Long View: Moving target

The Long View
Moving target
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:52:00 04/04/2010

THE response of Presidential candidate Manuel Villar Jr. and friends to questions raised about some of his claims has been instructive, to say the least. The questions raised have been pretty straightforward. The first concerns the tragic loss of one of Villar’s brothers, who died as a small boy. Villar in his ads said his brother died because their family couldn’t afford medicines. A death certificate, on the other hand, revealed that the tragedy was due to complications arising from leukemia after the child’s admission to the FEU hospital. The mortuary services were provided by La Funeraria Paz. The second concerns Villar’s claims of poverty not just at the start, but throughout, his childhood and adolescence. After living in Tondo, the Villars (his father was a budget officer in the government and his mother was not a retail fish vendor but a wholesale dealer) moved to San Rafael Village in Navotas, where the family had a 560-square-meter property with a proper home. Lito Banayo has written most thoroughly on the proper context of all these lifestyle attributes circa the 1950s and 1960s: solidly bourgeois, in a word.

The third predates the first two and was only recently raised: To what extent is Villar’s pride in being a self-made man tarnished either by exaggeration or the outright use of official connections to give himself undue advantage?

Like I said, in terms of the recent questions (he maneuvered to dodge scrutiny on the older questions concerning his ethics as an official) his response has been extremely illuminating.

On March 30 on ANC’s “Dateline” program with Pia Hontiveros and Tony Velasquez, senatorial candidate and Nacionalista spokesman Gilbert Remulla said that the Villars were able to pay the hospital bills because Manuel Villar Sr. borrowed funds from an uncle. On the same day, in an ambush interview on “TV Patrol,” Villar himself said that his brother’s medical bills were paid for by means of a female cousin of his father, named Nelly Cruz, who lent them money. On March 31, in an 8:30 p.m. dzMM interview with Alvin Elchico and Lynda Jumilla, the story evolved further: Villar now said that his family brought his brother to FEU hospital because they had a relative who worked there as a nurse, and who could help them with discounts. Add to this Villar’s explanation that while his brother did get admitted to FEU, he was brought in as a charity ward patient.

This is an evolving response and might evolve some more this week. It brings to mind the style of Villar’s ally, Chavit Singson whose response to the story about his mistress’ lover being beaten up. When first asked about it, he brushed the story aside, saying “the guy’s lucky I didn’t have them killed.” The day after, he said he didn’t beat them up, but that he couldn’t stop others from assaulting the mistress and her lover. On the third day, by the time he came upon the scene, the two had already been assaulted, but not, mind you, by his bodyguards.

Fast forward to the GQ Magazine profile of Manny Pacquiao, “The Biggest Little Man in the World,” where Singson makes a characteristic cameo appearance. As Andrew Corsello colorfully recounted it, the gossip involving Singson, his mistress and her lover was “allegedly rectified” : [by Singson and cohorts] with (among other implements) a tiger whip.”

After recounting the “cheerful” response to the story of the mistress, her face “looking like lasagna,” making the papers, the writer then went on to repeat the following exchange with a “Team Pacquiao member [who] expressed surprise that the Governor hadn’t shown me the picture in his wallet.” Here’s the exchange from the article.

Picture of what, in Chavit’s wallet? “That guy’s dick.”

The American writer’s puzzled response: “What?”

The Filipino’s answer: “After the Governor’s guys had laid it on a table and whacked it with a hammer. It had to be surgically cut off after. Too mauled.”

Colorful, but hearsay, even though possibly read by tens of thousands. What isn’t hearsay, and only colorful in the sense of a family tragedy getting lurid, is the curious case of the circumstances surrounding the sad, sad story of Villar’s brother. The thing is, no one disputes certain things: that the Villars were visited by a great tragedy in losing a child so young; that Villar is a self-made man. But on the other hand, he made certain specific claims that are disputed by documents and the material circumstances of his own bio-data. It wasn’t enough to be thoroughly bourgeois, with solidly middle-class, respectable and, by all accounts, hard-working and capable parents. It wasn’t enough to marry into the Aguilar clan with its money and power: a typical (at first) middle class UP student who maximized the advantages his parents worked hard to provide him with.

It’s no surprise that the one most energetically taking Villar to task is Joseph Estrada, who came from gentry but who had an instinctive common touch. Estrada’s many shortcomings mattered little to the millions who know no secrets can really be hidden from one’s neighbors in the slums, where the intimate is public. So long as false piety – hypocrisy – is avoided, then it is better to be flawed but genuine than to be an artificial construct. Even if there’s an obvious element of roguery, even chicanery, in the Erap myth it’s all conducted with a wink and a sly grin – everyone’s in on the act.

Which makes the Villar schtick not just pretense but an outright fraud, and objectionable to those millions for whom money isn’t evil so long as gallantly dispensed without condescension. At the heart of Villar’s problems is his billions being unable to erase the insult he presents to the intelligence of the very voters he claims to have come from, and understands.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

21 thoughts on “The Long View: Moving target

  1. Although, I think it is valid for you and Winnie Monsod to consider Villar’s picture of his childhood poverty fair game (since the person who pushed this issue into the public arena is Villar himself), I do have some sympathy for the candidate. I guess we all have certain stock anecdotes about ourselves that we wheel out from time to time but I wonder whether some of mine have rather strayed a bit from the facts. Is that what really what happened, or have I embellished it so often (seeing which lines got the laughs and which elicited only glazed looks) that what I am remembering is not the incident itself, but my last telling of the tale? How much more so for a politician; I suspect that Villar may seem to be vacillating on this point because he is genuinely having difficulty separating the objective facts from his own mythologizing.

    I also wonder how much politicians’ mini-lies influence the voters. In 1996 Blair told an absurd story on a chat show about how as a 14-year-old he had run ran away from school and almost boarded a plane to the Bahamas “I snuck onto the plane, and we were literally about to take off when the stewardess came up to me…’ My guess is that Blair had told this blatant lie (presumably designed to demonstrate his daredevil spirit) so many times that he really thought it had happened. Unfortunately for him an enterprising reporter asked his parents about this episode and his dad flatly contradicted every detail. Since the whole notion of a flight from Newcastle to the Bahamas sounded a bit improbable, another reporter called the airport and of course there had never been flights to the Bahamas.

    That didn’t stop Blair’s New Labour winning a huge victory four months later.

    I don’t particularly want Villar to win, but if he wants to turn this around here’s how:

  2. If anything they should be using this as an example of the evils of plagiarism and trying to push for more academic integrity.

    But alas, plagiarism is a constant issue in Philippine academe circles and journalism circles. People like Pedrosa over in the Star have been caught repeatedly plagiarizing, and now the National Museum is chaired by a convicted plagiarist.

    Intellectual bankruptcy. Name should go off the building too.

  3. Question is, if it isn’t true that Villar is GMA’s secret candidate, who is doing the demolition job? The “lesser evil.”

    As for MVP. I believe Ateneans themselves should spearhead the corrective process, but there’s really no such corrective for this kind of boo-boo. He’ll be in Wikipedia’s list of famous plagiarists.

    I recommend they import a superstar English professor for next school year. MVP is Ateneo’s talisman. Without him ADMU is just school for the heirs of the oligarchy and their lawyers.

    Pero dapat lang na i-shield nya yung mga batang speechwriter (I’m assuming they are very young), baka kung ano pang mangyari sa kanila. Malaking trauma ito.

  4. Anything is fair game in politics. Karl Rove used incredibly effective “swiftboat” tactics to besmirch John Kerry’s war hero image by implying that he exaggerated and misrepresented his war exploits in Vietnam. While there was no proof of this, this neutralized the advantage the bemedalled war veteran had over his draft-dodging opponent, George W. Bush.

    So bringing up a family tragedy and death of a sibling in order to besmirch an opponent is all fair, especially by the Karl Rove playbook.

    Politicians are certainly prone to hyperbole and embellishment, a more recent case being Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Democratic primary account of having been subjected to sniper fire in Bosnia when she visited that war-torn country in 1996. When evidence was presented that Mrs. Clinton did not directly come under sniper fire, she apologized for her faulty recollection and the issue was soon forgotten. It certainly wasn’t a factor in Obama’s winning the Democratic presidential primary, as much as it was Obama’s well-run and inspiring campaign that really turned the tables on Hillary.

    In the absence of an inspiring campaign, our politicians and their propagandists preoccupy themselves with petty-minded issues. Unfortunately for the Villar campaign, they are not very clever. Like the plodding Kerry campaign, Villar reacts, incapable of seizing the initiative. It would have been better if Villar were a moving target. At least that would imply that he was quick on his feet. From the looks of it, the poor bugger is a sitting duck.

  5. The man came from humble beginnings. Making C, D or E class distinctions hardly matter when you’re travelling in steerage. Unless one were privy to the family’s income statement, there can’t be proof that one is “poor” or “not so poor”. What there’s a lot of is conjecture and gossip. There’s no doubt that Villar has been “swiftboated”. And the sucker doesn’t even know what hit him.

  6. I don’t know how poor the Villars of Tondo was, but if the election issue is to slime those of rico lineage, well…. there is Prince Noynoy heir to Queen Cory and King Ninoy. The Queen is dead and the throne belongs to the only son. Yeh-bahh!! Peasants and all should bow to the inevitable.

    Villar created his own wealth — anyone who has trouble with that should hit Villar and his methods, not this sliming technique of portraying Villar as of despicable middle-class lineage. Lila Shahani even alluded to Villar’s parents as “… aristocrat ” family, what uber-nonsense.

    But swiftboating is sliming at a rapid pace, and such are elections.

  7. Villar is unmasked…

    He’s just one of those unscrupulous businessmen who mastered the manipulation of our political system, for a lot of people there is nothing wrong with this, kanya-kanyang discarte sa buhay para yumaman…whatever the cost…
    the real estate people and used car salesmen understand this and worship rags-to-riches demigods like Villar…but it still doesn’t make it right…unless you win – this is the Philippines after all…everybody has a price…

  8. Carl Cid Inting,

    The experience of death and tragedy is real. But the story as told by Villar is not. The documents speak for themselves.

    Citing Cayetano to debunk documentary evidence is not the best way to answer the points MLQ raised.

    Your peddling of gossip, half-truths and overreaching parallels reveal only that you are a dyed-in-the wool member of the Villarroyo backhoe operations team.

    Villar could have killed the issue by simply owning up, apologizing for the hyperbole, and moved on.

  9. Clearly, some people became extremely defensive and agitated when the “swiftboating” issue was brought up. Manolo raised points based on conjecture. Nobody can claim real proof about anybody’s degree of poverty, especially if the person concerned happened not to live in Forbes Park, but lived in Tondo. When you’re in steerage, and not in first or second class, you’re heaped along with the scum of the earth. Even if you were a degree or two higher on the social scale.

    Apparently, the TOPAK acronym cuts too close to the bone for some. It certainly shows in the way they respond. The truth can be too close for comfort. Calling other people names and trying to lump them in that convenient “Villaroyo” tag, only reveals a mean and shallow streak that is normally associated with people suffering from quirky behavior. It also reveals that they are not very smart. Just vile and malicious.

    And I do stand by my statement that Manolo Quezon is nothing but a propagandist and a peddler of gossip and half-truths. He hasn’t shown any iota of proof besides second or third-hand gossip and insinuations. And I stand by my portrayal of Manolo Quezon as an aspiring Karl Rove, if not a Goebbels.

    The original swiftboaters did have their gossip brigade, peddling their version of proof against John Kerry’s military record. They even wrote a bestselling book that disparaged John Kerry’s service in the military. They also had a face: a partisan political group called “Swift Vets and POWs for Truth”. Their success at hoodwinking millions of dim-witted Americans means that a good part of the public bought into their version of “proof”.

    I have stated that this is all part of the game. And politics is a dirty game. Having said that, let’s not pretend that Noynoy and his backers are a bunch of do-gooders and patriots. They’re just as dirty, greedy and mercenary as the rest. If they are disturbed by being exposed for what they are, I can only quote Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time . . .” And you know how it ends.

  10. You would have to return to what Tondo was at the time in question, though the questions raised weren’t about Tondo but about the specific claims made about a later, specific place and time: Navotas. In the point you make the precise analogy is second class already at this point and not steerage.

  11. Carl Sid Inting has done a sloppy demolition job of MLQ3 by mere comparison to Karl Rove.

    Such technique is flawed from the very beginning since how much color you can paint on MLQ3 it does not change a bit the true account of the very subject Manny Villar.

    Carl, you should read “Was Manny Villar really ever poor?” by William M. Esposo dated 2/7/10 which disclosed that Villar’s neighbor in Tondo attested Villar’s dad owned a stailess clad jeep (in 1950, a status symbol for wealth).

    More damaging is Manny Villar’s own online bio:
    “Manuel Villar Jr. was born on December 13, 1949 in Tondo, a densely populated district of Manila. He was the second of nine children of Manuel Villar Sr., a government employee, and Curita Bamba, a SEAFOOD DEALER.”

    Have fun guys!

  12. An honest critique of Manolo Quezon’s work as a “journalist” isn’t a demolition job. It’s just telling the truth and being objective. Manolo Quezon is a self-described groveler to the Filipino upper classes, most specially to the Lopez, Cojuangco and Aquino families. Contrary to his aims to project himself as an explainer and a historian, he is a propagandist for the Filipino elite. Yan ang katotohanan.

    And the William Esposo, so ascribed, happens to be a paid hack and a toady of the Aquinos. He played a role in the Cory Aquino media bureau and was an Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the Cory government. He was active behind the scenes in hoodwinking the nation into ratifying the so-called “Cory Constitution” and was appointed by Cory Aquino to head RPN-9 until the end of her term. This is a person bought and beholden. He is a polluted source, as anyone can see, and a member of TOPAK, just like Manolo Quezon.

    I don’t know how a stainless jeep could be a symbol of wealth. Stainless jeeps are so “baduy” they’re actually déclassé. Only malicious people with fertile imaginations would ascribe such a lowbrow, everyday utility vehicle as a status symbol. Unless one were living in the slums, which is precisely my point.

  13. Carl, you keep on attacking personalities. The last time was MLQ, and now this time is William Esposo. You are hallucinating.

    It has nothing to do wether Manny Villar came from poor family.

    The argument is simple, Manny Villar claimed her mother was a FISH DEALER which is not by any stretch of imagination from a poor family.

    The fact remains that a poor family simply cannot afford a stainless jeep. Looking at it as baduy is simply irrelevant as a matter of your taste.

  14. Mr Villar brought the issue to light first in his advertisements. He was the first who chose to leverage his family tragedy to score sympathy points with the voters. By running advertisements about that tragedy he opened it up for scrutiny.

    It is the realities of the situation differ from the reality that he is trying to present. Thus, it has become an issue; especially if he is trying to mislead the public. He is not helping his case as well when it comes to changing nature of his stories.

    It is no different from people criticizing the legacy of Cory and Ninoy when Noynoy was running on that aura.

  15. the test of truth and objectivity might be: if you were to ask a cop why he decides to buy a stainless steel jeep, assuming he does not live in a slum, what would be his answer?

  16. The fact remains that a poor family simply cannot afford a stainless jeep. Looking at it as baduy is simply irrelevant as a matter of your taste.

    Twenty five years or so ago, the stainless steel jeep was a status symbol, at least where I came from…as it was a choice between walking, biking, or taking the tricycle…

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