MANILA - Billionaire senator and 2010 presidential aspirant Manuel "Manny" Villar said Monday his family is willing to sell their crown jewel Vista Land and Lifescapes Inc. to avoid possible conflicts of interest if he clinches the top post next year.
"I'm willing to sell," Villar said in a forum hosted by ABS-CBN News. “If the price is right, why not?”
Trading of Vista Land shares at the local stock exchange closed at P2.60 per share on Monday. The real estate company has a market capitalization of P21.4 billion.
Among potential and confirmed presidential aspirants for the national elections next year, Villar stands out for being the wealthiest. For years, he and wife, Las Pinas representative Cynthia Villar, top the list of wealthiest solons with a combined net worth of P1.046 billion as of end-2008. (Read: Profile of Manuel Jr. Bamba Villar)
Real estate played a key role in his rags-to-riches story, which features prominently in Villar's campaign ads that aim to position him as one who has been through poverty and successfully climbed out of it.
Villar's wealth was spawned from betting on the low-end and affordable housing projects--a market largely snubbed by large real estate developers in the eighties and nineties.
Filipinos at home and those working overseas snapped C&P Homes' residential units then. A magazine had called him the "brown tycoon."
But in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, C&P's finances plummeted. Its dollar loans that funded aggressive land banking and horizontal expansions brought C&P and other companies controlled by Villar to the brink of bankruptcy. Villar said that was the toughest period in his life.
Several dacion-en-pago (payment in kind) and joint venture arrangements later, Villar re-organized his real estate empire under Vista Land.
This time, affordable and low-income homes are just one part of Vista Land's menu. The umbrella company now has a diversified offering, which ranges from affordable to luxury residential communities. It has also branched out to mall operations.
Vista Land is the largest homebuilder among local real estate players. It has been posting double digit growths. Its follow-on offering in 2007 netted almost P20 billion in fresh funds.
Villar said he had divested his personal stakes from his businesses when he entered politics in 1992. After 3 terms as Las Pinas representative, he became a senator in 2001. He is eyeing the highest office in 2010.
He said he has trained his children to take over the business. Wharton educated son Manuel Paolo A. Villar, 32, is a director and the chief financial officer of Vista Land. He first joined the business in 2001 as head of corporate planning of middle-market developeer Crown Asia.
University of Pennsylvania-educated Mark A. Villar, 30, is also a Vista Land director. He is currently the chief executive officer of Homeplus Builder’s Center and Family Shoppers and has held various positions in the privately owned MB Villar Group of Companies.
The two sons represent the shareholdings of the Villar family in Vista Land.
The Villar family's stake are in various companies that in turn have a stake in the listed company. According to Vista Land's latest disclosure to the stock market, Fine Properties, Adelfa Properties, and Polar Property Holdings have 35%, 18.2%, and 5.35% stake in Vista Land.
Conflict of interest
Jose Manuel Diokno, dean at La Salle College of Law, said Villar must sell his family's stake as mandated under Philippine laws.
Under Sec. 9 of RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, divestment is mandated when a conflict of interest arises.
The public official shall resign from his position in a private business enterprise within 30 days from date of assumption of office, and/or divest himself of his shareholdings or interest within 60 days from such assumption. As defined under the law, divestment is the transfer of title to property in favor of a person, other than the original owner's spouse and relatives.
"Kaya ipinagbabawal ang conflict of interest, ayaw natin na ang public official na uupo diyan ang agenda pala ay para sa sarili nilang kapakanan (Conflict of interest is not allowed. We don't want our public official to prioritize his own interest above others')," Diokno said.
Divesting from Vista Land would also help Villar avoid intrigues involving his family's businesses.
Villar was accused last year of inserting an additional P200 million for a road extension project in the capital in a budget bill, from which his family's companies benefitted. The controversy led to his ousting as the Senate president.
Villar said, "My legal team is studying the issue."