Fri, 22 Sep 2023

CHEERS TO the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for its report on the Villar political family and how they conduct business.

All in the Family

The investigation made necessary note of Manuel "Manny" Villar Jr.'s political profile. A former Senator himself, his wife Cynthia and son Mark are both members of the Senate. Mark Villar also headed the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) during the Duterte administration. A daughter, Camille, is on her second consecutive term as representative in Congress of the lone district of Las Pinas.

The May 4 report by Camille Elemia discussed the non-payment of up to PHP 213 million in taxes and penalties to the city of Las Pinas by three Villar-owned and -operated companies. Naming other relatives in the city government of Las Pinas, PCIJ gets to the core of the problem as it exposes how politics mixed with business becomes a family affair.

The three companies addressed a petition to Las Pinas Mayor Imelda Aguilar for a waiver of penalties of up to 70 million on taxes owed. PCIJ traced another family connection: Aguilar was married to the late Vergel Aguilar, Cynthia Villar's brother who was mayor of Las Pinas for 18 years. Mayor Aguilar endorsed the request to the head of the City Council, Vice Mayor April Aguilar-Nery, the mayor's daughter. At press time, the city council had not announced its decision.

PCIJ also included findings from documents and correspondence about tax deficiencies of eight other properties belonging to the three companies which have members of the Villar family as shareholders or officers, or both.

Conflict of Interest

The case is easy enough to understand and Elemia did not need to do much more than the straightforward presentation of findings drawn from detailed documents. Tracing the political positions of members on either side of the family illustrates the potential conflict of interest between Villar's business and their duties as public officials. The report clarified how political power engenders privilege and entitlement and abuse of government office.

Elemia elaborates on the extent of Villar's business empire. Forbes lists Manuel Villar as the country's richest Filipino worth USD 8.6 billion or PHP 467 billion. The request letter for tax amnesty pleaded company losses during the pandemic, but PCIJ pointed out that the Villar companies' non-payment began long before the pandemic. PCIJ also cited reports to the Philippine Stock Exchange showing enormous profits made by Brittany Corporation in 2022.

The report described the negative impact of unpaid taxes. The city's needy population lose the services, benefits and assistance that these taxes support.

The City Assessor's Office of Las Pinas lists 18 other Villar properties with unpaid taxes in 2023. The list includes a total of 300 companies who owe the city money. But these other companies are not owned by political dynasties like the Villars.

Political Dynasties

PCIJ's account recalls the poor record of political dynasties whose members take office simultaneously, developing a sense of entitlement to the power that is incumbent in government positions. PCIJ has shown the Villars as a "fat" dynasty, whose multiple connections serve the interests of their private enterprise as well.

A collective media watch would serve voters well with information on the Villars and other political families in time for the next election.

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