Do you trust Manny Villar (to be the next president of the Philippines) ?
The answer to this question is the stumbling block of the Villar campaign and must keep the candidate awake most nights. That many Filipinos are undecided, at best, about how they would reply if asked is why Villar trails at the polls, albeit closely nipping at the heels of Noynoy.
He certainly has a reputation for being an astute, even ruthless, businessman. This is partly because an instinctive mistrust of the very wealthy. He could not have gotten his fortune without having done something bad, the thinking goes. But this only accounts for a small percentage of his detractors.
The main reason is that he has more than a few skeletons rattling in his closet, the scariest being the C-5 scandal. Thus, despite all the money and effort poured into his run he has to play catch-up in the homestretch. And why the smear campaign about his being â€œVillaroyoâ€ has taken its toll.
But Villar also has a lot of things going for him, which is why he has a good chance of defeating Noynoy Aquino and his fearsome yellow army. And I donâ€™t mean just his money. At a certain point in the election (and I believe this point has been reached), money becomes less important. All the money in the world will not get you elected if youâ€™re truly unelectable. Cash becomes critical as election day nears only as a means of ensuring the party machinery is kept well greased and to keep your capos and foot soldiers happy and motivated on the day itself. You will need warm bodies and money to safeguard your vote. On this score I believe Noynoy and Villar have achieved a rough parity.
What Villar has going for him are three things.
First, he has a compelling story: the poor boy who pulls himself up by his (rubber) sandal straps and attains material success beyond the wildest dreams of most Filipinos. Even considering the propaganda, hype and bullshit inherent in electioneering, his storyline resonates on a basic level with a lot of voters. His overcoming the limitations imposed by unfortunate circumstances can be duplicated, he says, in small and big ways if only one has diligence, resilience and faith in the Almighty. In truth, he has gone a longer way and by his own dogged efforts than any of the presidential aspirants. Even if we consider the allegation that he was not really as poor as his campaign claims he was.
Secondly, he has proven administrative capabilities and leadership qualities. This is immediately apparent in the way his campaign has been run: professionally and effectively. That he had money helped, of course. But he used it well.
And to be fair, one can see that it is not just money animating the Villar campaign. There is as much intelligence and commitment there. He got his message out early. The dispatches from the Villar camp were concise and easy to grasp, unified by a clear and believable theme. He built alliances which, although they raised a lot of eyebrows at the start, appear to be holding up. To me, this indicates excellent executive abilities which are indispensable if one is to run a country as fractious as others.
Finally, he appears to be person with genuine integrity that has earned the grudging respect of many who initially mistrusted him. He can say his piece calmly and without rancor. His demeanor has not changed despite the mud flung at him from all sides. And he has refused to repay in kind.
One can also see the kind of person he is by how he interacts with his family, his wife and children.
Of course, personal decency alone does not a good president make. But coupled with his other qualities, a convincing argument for a Villar presidency can be made.
The fear of him turning out to be Villaroyo will linger. He will have a lot of trust-building to do if he ever gets to Malacanang. And the cynic in me recognizes the possibility he might indeed transform into the Frankenstein monster he is held out to be by his enemies. But for now, I really donâ€™t see it happening.
A point on a matter which I consider a non-issue, with all due respect to my esteemed Economics professor, Dr. Winnie Monsod. Much has been said about his having used the story of his late brother, who died in early childhood, in his ads. Whatever else can be said about the embellishments and dramatic touches given his brotherâ€™s dying, it points to a fundamental and undeniable truth: that for a majority of our countrymen death is a constant possibility for want of adequate medical care.
And as for the questionable tack of using a dead person to further oneâ€™s aims, Noynoy is guilty of this as well. Even more so, as he has been using the memory of two dead people to drive his campaign, Ninoy and Cory, tragically felled by an assassinâ€™s bullet and cancer, respectively. Only this time, Aquino wants us to believe that by reason his parentsâ€™ untimely deaths, destiny has conferred upon him the mantle of leadership.
Which is the more insidious and shameless untruth ?