Bets gang up on Villar over big ad spend

By Leilani Chavez, Carmela Fonbuena,

Posted at Feb 08 2010 07:12 PM | Updated as of Feb 09 2010 11:02 AM

Villar: ‘That’s the problem if you’re leading'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Sen. Jamby Madrigal and several other presidential candidates on Monday ganged up on Sen. Manny Villar for spending too much on political advertisements, which analysts have pinpointed as the main reason why Villar has been able to catch up with erstwhile frontrunner Sen. Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III.
In the "Inquirer First Edition: Presidential Debates" held at UP Diliman, Madrigal delivered harsh criticisms against Villar. The lady senator had filed a complaint for unethical conduct against the real estate tycoon in connection with the C-5 road extension project.
The ball started rolling when Madrigal was asked the question: “Political ads nowadays seem to cater to the lowest common denominator in society. From catchphrases to jingles, they seem to contain mainly rhetoric but no real substance. Do you think this type of campaigning, including political endorsements from movie celebrities, does this not contribute to the dumbing down of the Filipino voter?”
The sole female presidential candidate responded with a resounding, “I agree—completely."
According to Madrigal, she does not agree with the use of jingles, children, and actors being paid P30 million pesos. She sees these tactics as insults to the Filipino’s intelligence.

Villar's most popular ad uses children singing and extolling Villar's virtues. Popular comedian, Dolphy Quizon, is believed to have received a large sum for endorsing Villar.

“The use of jingles. The use of children. The use of actors, where you have to pay P30 million to endorse you. It’s an insult to the Filipino intelligence. That is why I have chosen to respect the law. People who have spent P2 billion, who think they can buy Malacañang, have no right to become president,” Madrigal said.

“You will see my ads. I have no jingles. It’s a reflection of my political platform,” she said.

Lesson from Judai ads

Reminded about her 2004 political ads, where she tapped popular celebrity Judy Ann Santos for her campaign, Madrigal replied: “I have seen the folly of my ways. I will not repeat it. I do not believe we should perpetuate lies, which are perpetuated by big budgets.”

She also found a way to blame Villar about child nutrition.

“If not for the boycott of the minority, we could have passed the Milk Code that would have saved the lives of infants. We were curtailing milk companies from advertising for infants from 0 to 2 years old. They are saying that their products are substitutes for breast milk. That is the number one contributor for mortality for infants in this country. It would have passed if not for a very inconsiderate minority. My heart bleeds,” Madrigal said.
Madrigal said her political advertisements for the May 10 polls will only reflect her political principles and platforms.

Villar, the richest among the 9 presidential candidates, has been outspending his rivals in political ads by a ratio of around 8 to 1. He spent over P500 million from October to December 2009 alone, landing him in 14th place in the country's top 20 advertisers. Some observers have estimated Villar has already spent anywhere from P1 billion to P2 billion in ads.

After taking several swipes at Villar, Madrigal was asked if there was anything positive she could say about him. She said: "Maganda ang pagtina ng buhok niya (I like the way his hair is dyed)."

If you had Villar’s money…
Questions about Villar's wealth and political ads did not end there.

Ang Kapatiran’s JC Delos Reyes was asked if he would still run for president if the Olongapo councilor had the wealth of Villar. “If the situation of this country is like this, yes, I still would (run),” he said.
Delos Reyes clarified, though, that his campaign style would be unlike Villar's since it would focus on his beliefs and priorities. The councilor added that candidates should not portray wrong messages that may destroy the “values of the youth.”

“The way a politician handles his money, his campaign style, reflects the way he is. If I have the money, I would engage in politics but I would be very careful in the message. I believe that if you are to serve, there should be a message that conveys principles and platform. It should not be a campaign message that just says, 'Ako ang mahirap. Ako ang ganito.' It destroys the values of the youth. It destroys idealism,” De Los Reyes said.

Villar's ads have emphasized his humble roots in Tondo, Manila and his pro-poor programs.

Power or wealth?
In defending his excessive ad spending, Villar said it is also important to examine the other candidates’ campaign donors, implying that it is better to have a self-financed campaign.

“Pera ko naman ang ginagastos ko. Napakahalaga na tanungin din natin, hindi lamang kung magkano ang ginagastos, kundi sino ba ang nagbigigay sa kanila? Dahil baka ito ang hinahalal nating pangulo at hindi yung nakaharap dito. Napakahalaga din yun,” Villar said.

Villar was also asked the question, “If Senator Aquino has Kris Aquino as his campaign donor,  who else—aside from Mrs. Cynthia Villar—are generously donating to your campaign?"

“Hindi naman ako artista. Wala akong nanay na presidente. Wala akong kapatid na artista. Kailangan ang mahirap ang pinagsimulan na gaya ko ay bigyan ng pagkakataon—ng level playing field. Kung hindi ito (pol ads), wala na,” he said.

“I use my own money for campaigning,” Villar said, reiterating that unlike Aquino, he does not have an influential sister in show business who can help him win.

Power or wealth? 
Another question for the former Senate president caught the crowd’s attention: “Which would you rather have: power or wealth?”
Villar indirectly answered that a child who comes from a poor family automatically dreams of being wealthy when he or she grows up. However, he said there should be a higher dream after achieving wealth.
In his case, Villar said he eventually realized the need to help the poor, but for him to be able to do this, he needs power.

“Minsan, ang pangarap mo ay nakakarating sa pinakamataas, at yun ay makatulong sa kapwa. At minsan, nangangailangan ng power para magawa mo yang pangarap na yan na maiahon ang iyong kababayan sa kahirapan,” he said.
“Yumaman ako sa malinis na paraan (I became rich through honest means)," he added.

Villar, who smiled throughout the forum despite the attacks, dismissed the criticisms as part of the election process.

“Iyan ang problema kapag nangunguna ka na. Pero okay lang yun. Ready tayo dyan. I consider it a compliment. Mas mahirap kung hindi ka pinapansin,” Villar told reporters at the sidelines of Monday's debate.

In the latest Pulse Asia survey, conducted January 22-26, Villar had caught up with Aquino, the erstwhile survey frontrunner. They were statistically tied at 35% and 37%, respectively.

Political analysts have attributed Villar’s rise to his political ads and marketing campaign.

No truth in pro-poor message?

Villar’s rivals also criticized his pro-poor advocacy as a mere campaign stunt.

“Kung sasabihin mong maka-mahirap ka, you show it. Sabi ni Erap noon, “Ako ay para sa mahirap.” Ano nangyari sa atin? Lalo tayong nagiging mahirap. Over the history of our country, there have been exploitation of the poor. Makamahirap sila. Pero pag nakaupo na, nakalimutan na,” Senator Richard Gordon said.

“You have to face the facts. Kung ang leader hindi haharap sa accountability, dapat hindi iboto ang taong yan,” Gordon added.

The Senate was scheduled to vote last February 3 on a committee report that seeks to censure Villar for his unethical conduct on the C-5 road project, but Villar and his allies in the minority didn’t show up, thus blocking the censure.

Curiously, Aquino—who in the past presidential fora was very critical of Villar—refrained from actively engaging in the word war. (See story: Noynoy questions Villar’s ethics)

Aquino was asked to comment on Villar’s ads. The question was: "Your closest rival seems to hold himself up as a symbol of hope or as the embodiment of [the saying that] if you work hard and persevere. Is this realistic or this an impossible dream?”

He replied: “Meron na naka-achieve na nyan. Dito sa ating mga katunggali, maraming nagtatanong kung tama po yata [yung mensahe na yun.] Pero hindi ko na papasukan yan. Sa amin, ang pananaw namin, kulang sa oportunidad.”

Aquino then harped on the need to improve the country’s educational system to make the Filipinos competitive worldwide.

Attacks vs Noynoy

Aquino got a share of criticisms, too.

Gordon also assailed Aquino’s earlier statement that he will not impose new taxes if elected president. He said Aquino was only trying to be populist, but it’s a promise that will be hard to keep.

“No president wants to raise taxes. Pero kailangan harapin ang katotohanan. Gusto ba nating umunlad o hindi? We have to make sacrifices. We have no place to look for but expand the tax base,” Gordon said.

The "Inquirer First Edition: Presidential Debates" was organized by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and co-sponsored by Globe Telecoms and the UP College of Mass Communication.

A total of 27 questions were posed for each candidate separated into 3 categories: 1) Law and governance, 2) Social Services, and 3) Economics and Business.