MANILA, Philippines - Nacionalista Party (NP) presidential candidate Manny Villar on Tuesday said his detractors and presidential "blue-bloods" should apologize for saying that his family was not as poor as portrayed in his TV ads.
Villar issued the challenge after copies of the death certificate of his brother, Danny, as well as the transfer certificate of title (TCT) of the Villar home in San Rafael Village in Navotas started circulating online and was quoted in newspaper columns since Saturday.
Villar, who is currently ranked 2nd in the presidential race according to pre-election surveys, has repeatedly talked about his humble roots as a former shrimp vendor in Manila's Tondo slum.
In one of his TV ads, he said his brother, Danny, died because they could not afford healthcare.
Billy Esposo, one of the columnists who disclosed documents allegedly debunking Villar's once-poor claim, said Danny's death certificate showed that the family brought him to FEU Hospital, a hospital for rich people in 1962.
After Danny died, the Villars allegedly turned over the body to Funeraria Paz, one of the top two mortuaries in those days.
Since Danny was diagnosed with leukemia, Esposo said there was no way he could be saved since there was no bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy in those days. "Whether you're super rich or whether you're super poor, you died from leukemia," he said.
Villar, however, said he saw no problem with bringing his brother to a private hospital in an attempt to save his life.
"Mamamatay na ang kapatid ko, masama bang dalhin siya sa ospital? Kahit pa pribado yan. Kung mamatay na ang kapatid mo, dadalhin mo yan sa ospital. Walang masama doon. Hindi masama sa isang mahirap na magdala ng kanyang mamamatay na kapatid sa ospital pag oras ng kamatayan" he asked.
The Nacionalista bet said his father asked help from a cousin, Nelly Chua, so that they could have Danny admitted to the FEU hospital's charity ward. He said that when his brother died, they held the wake at their house since holding the wake in Funeraria Paz would be too expensive.
"Maaaring Paz ang nandun. Sila ang nag-ayos pero ang burol sa bahay namin dahil hindi namin kaya," he said.
San Rafael village 'not a gated community'
Villar also refuted allegations that his family was not really poor to have been able to afford a house in San Rafael Village.
Esposo said the documents show that the Villars bought a 560-square-meter property in Tondo before 1962, and this was located in an "gated subdivision" of families who were not poor. He added that a poor family would have been happy to have a 100-square-meter property.
He also said that Villar's father must have been earning a sizeable income as a government employee to be able able to borrow P16,000 from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). He noted that in 1962, senior executives in big corporations made monthly salaries of about P2,000.
He also belied Villar's political ad which refers to a "sea of garbage." During the 1950s, he said there was still no such thing in Metro Manila.
"I was born 1949. The sea of garbage in Metro Manila only happened in the middle part of martial law," he claimed.
Villar, however, said he and his fellow 8 siblings were born in a squatter shack in 500 Moriones Street in Tondo, Manila. "Squatter kami. Siyam kaming magkakapatid na pinanganak doon. Isang banig at isang kulambo lang kami. Nagtitinda kami ng hipon. Sinasamahan ko ang nanay ko sa palengke," he said.
He said his father loaned P16,000 from the GSIS since they wanted to buy a much bigger house for the family.
He said San Rafael Village was not a "gated community" but was actually prone to flooding and had only 10 houses when they first moved in.
"Nakalagay nga gated community kasi tinitignan nila yung kondisyon ngayon but that was 50 years ago. Nung panahon na yun, ibang-iba yun. Yung lugar ay hindi class na subdivision. Katabi yun ng Smokey Mountain...Ang lugar walang gwardya. Siguro ang bahay lang nung lumipat kami mga 10 lang dahil lubog nga kasi pag high tide sa Navotas lumulubog. Walang semento o aspalto ang mga daan," he said.
Villar said he is not ashamed of his humble beginnings especially as a former shrimp vendor in Navotas. He said that as a child, he and his mother would buy shrimp at night and then he would sleep for several hours "on a bench that was too short for him" before the customers came.
He also denied that his mother was actually a fish dealer and not an ordinary vendor. He said that he and his mother would sometimes borrow money at usurious rates from Indian businessmen.
Villar said he was offended by allegations that he had been less than truthful in his TV ads.
"Hindi ko tinatanggi na namatay ang kapatid ko at pinasok namin sa FEU. Ang nagpasok sa amin ay yung pinsan ng tatay ko. Hindi ko rin tinatanggi na bumili kami ng bahay, kasi nga 9 kami. Umutang ang tatay ko sa GSIS. Kapag umutang ka, may titulo ka. Hindi ko tinatanggi yun. Iniiba lang nila ang storya," he said.
He said his critics should apologize for spreading lies about him in order to make it appear that he is not really from the poor.
"Nag-iimbento lang sila. Mga haciendero sila at laki sa layaw, ni hindi man lang nakatikim sa kahit na ano sa aking mga kinekwento. Pinipilit nilang paglapitin kami. Hindi kami malapit. Haciendero ang aking kalaban. Ako naman ay walang-wala. Pinapanindigan ko yan. Dapat naman ay humingi nang paumanhin yung mga naninira," he said.
Nacionalista Party spokesman Gilbert Remulla later clarified that the apology should come from all of Villar's detractors including broadsheet columnists such as Esposo, Winnie Monsod and Conrado de Quiros.
"The attacks have been very vicious and they have twisted the truth too much. They have gone beyond what is reasonable in politics. They have crossed the line. They should be ashamed of themselves for delving into something like this," he said.
He added that the attacks on Villar came from the "haciendero mentality" of some presidential candidates who could not accept that someone from humble beginnings would rise above his station and accomplish so much.
For his part, Esposo said he will not apologize to Villar for what he has written since his only objective was to tell the truth. He said he and Villar are "kumpadres."
"The malice is not with me, it's with the people who are lying to this nation," he said. "I'm just doing my job as a writer... I don't like what to me looks like untruth in advertising."