PRESIDENT-elect Rodrigo Duterte has spoken about how those who want promotions or appointments should send him a CV, and he will decide on his appointees based on credentials.
He might need to look at Mark Villar’s.
A question of skill set
The President-elect has said that one need not be an engineer to head the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). What you need to be is a manager.
Other than the fact that this might be said of any Cabinet secretary, this is highly arguable, isn’t it, and especially for the DPWH post.
Because how could an economics major, no matter that he studied elsewhere in the world, know about the whys and wherefores of constructing bridges and roads and highways? How would he know about the systems involved in infrastructure projects, about the crisis of public-private partnership (PPP) projects that has turned the most basic right to safe passable roads into business?
We already think of the DPWH as the bane of our existence. Our roads are destroyed and reconstructed without a clear sense of why. Projects take forever to get done: the busy area of the Mandaluyong City hall is still suffering through a never-ending DPWH road improvement project that didn’t even seem to need improvement. The more epic gridlocks on our roads have happened no thanks to DPWH-approved flyover projects, i.e., remember that time you missed your flight at NAIA 3?
Villar himself has yet to even prove that he has what it takes—even in theory—to be public works and highways secretary. Because even as manager, doesn’t he need to have a sense of the kind of work that his office will be in charge of? The kinds of systems that are in place and the problems with these systems? Isn’t it that in the end what we do need is not just a manager, and not just an engineer, but someone with engineering and managerial experience, who will treat DPWH as primarily a public service and not a way for friends and family to earn out of government projects?
And an even more basic thing: as DPWH secretary Villar will be dealing with engineers. It would be good for the morale of any office that whoever leads it knows exactly the skill set of his subordinates, and understands the struggles they might face not just as government employees but as engineers who work in the service of nation.
A question of track record
Villar’s history as congressman does not reveal even a remote interest in public works and infrastructure as a public service.
This is not to say he’s got no credentials. In the 16th Congress alone, the younger Villar has claimed to author 10 national laws. This includes the Co-Loading Act, which allows foreign vessels to transport and co-load foreign cargoes for domestic transshipment; the Lemon Law, which strengthens consumer protection in the purchase of motor vehicles; and the Negosyo Act, which promotes job generation and inclusive growth through the development of micro, small and medium enterprises. (Interaksyon.com, 17 May)
The Competition Act has been called “game-changing” as it “prohibits anti-competitive mergers and acquisitions, the fixing of prices during auctions or biddings, and agreements that limit or control production, markets and investments.” (Inquirer.net, 21 July 2015) The Youth Entrepreneurship Act has been hailed by Sen. Bam Aquino as a way to “meet the challenges of youth unemployment head on” as it aims “to change the public school curriculum and paradigm, as it creates financial literacy modules in all levels of Philippine education, to inculcate a culture of enterprise development among the Filipino youth.” (bamaquino.com, 6 July 2015) The Microfinance NGO’s Act “is a law that aims to strengthen NGOs that are engaged in microfinance operations for the poor.” (Manila Bulletin, 14 Jan)
One realizes this isn’t just a question of whether or not Villar has the credentials to be Cabinet secretary. It’s that if you look at his work as congressman, he would in fact be better suited not for DPWH, but for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
A deeper, darker hole
Sen. Koko Pimentel has been quick to dismiss the criticism of the Villar appointment: “In the particular case that the proposed government infrastructure project will benefit one of your real properties, then you can, for that particular case, inhibit yourself from the decision-making process.” (Philstar.com, 17 May)
Peter Laviña has said: “We’ll have to check between the companies that are involved in their private business endeavors like building subdivisions, if it’s different from getting a franchise or involving PPP, two different things ‘yan.” Laviña also said that the younger Villar would have to “divest his interests to avoid conflict of interest as secretary of the DPWH.” (ABS-CBN.com, 20 May)
But it will take more than just Villar divesting from the family business, or disallowing the Villar group of companies from engaging in PPP projects, for us to rest easy. This is not just because Mark’s parents were embroiled in that C-5 extension project circa 2008 (see stuartsantiago.com, 15 Oct 2008 for Lito Banayo’s columns on it). It’s also because the mere appointment of a Villar into the DPWH was enough reason for the family to gain from it.
From Jojo Robles: “I got a hot tip on the amazing performance of Vista Land stock on May 17, when it was logging an amazing 7 percent increase by midday in a generally flat market. The news that caused Vista stock to move up was the appointment of Mark Villar as secretary of the DPWH. The market just put two and two together and came up with the result that Vista’s properties would dramatically increase in value as a result of Mark’s appointment to a department that could do just that.” (Manila Standard, May 19)
To appoint Villar to DPWH, when his credentials reveal an interest in another department altogether, and his name is already equated with real estate and development, will not help this department any, suffering as it already does a lack of credibility, with all its good work getting buried in the larger, more controversial holes it digs for itself (pun intended).
Unless of course the change that is coming for the DPWH is just a deeper, darker hole.