By AA PATAWARAN
Photos by Noel Pabalate
Video by David Clarence Rivera
Easy does it. That’s how you might describe the parenting style of real estate magnate, retail mogul, and former Senate president and speaker of the House Manny Villar and his wife Senator Cynthia Villar. But maybe not.
Over breakfast with his son Mark Villar at the latter’s house in Las Piñas, where we were joined by Mark’s wife, his daughter-in-law Department of Justice undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay Villar and his granddaughter, three-year-old Emma, let’s hear it straight from father and son how a family such as theirs, rich and powerful and prominent, can raise children so low-key and so hardworking, like the Villar kids, Vista Land CEO Paolo Villar, Department of Public Works and Highway Secretary Mark Villar, and incoming Las Piñas representative Camille Villar.
ARE YOU A COOL DAD?
Maybe, kasi hindi ako madali magalit (I’m not quick to anger) and lately I am more relaxed, but when the kids were growing up, we were very worried, my wife and I. We saw some spoiled kids eh, of people we worked with. Cynthia and I decided we couldn’t have our children grow up like that. I told Cynthia, “Siguraduhin mo na hindi sila maging ganyan (Make sure they won’t end up like that).”
SO IS SENATOR CYNTHIA VILLAR THE DISCIPLINARIAN?
More than I was. Ako, kasi binabalanse ko lagi ‘yung wife ko eh (I always try to balance things out). My wife and I, we’re like left and right. If she is too much in the left, then I move to the right.
WHAT WERE THE GROUND RULES BACK WHEN THE KIDS WERE GROWING UP?
I didn’t want them to be spoiled about money. That was our greatest fear or that they would be mayabang (arrogant, self-important). Ayaw namin ng mayabang (We don’t like arrogant people). I wanted them to learn even at an early age to respect money. But it wasn’t really hard to enforce. That was our lifestyle. Cynthia and I, we started out poor, so hindi talaga kami sanay sa luho (we weren’t really used to luxury).
Nothing really changed maski yumayaman na kami (even as we were getting richer) in terms of net worth. We didn’t really see the need to move to a bigger house, to drive luxurious cars. We were never like that.
Even when we were both in government, sometimes I would pick Cynthia up myself.
When they moved to the US, Paolo for college at Wharton in Philadelphia and Mark for (senior) high school at Lawrenceville in New Jersey, he was only 16, I had a rule that Paolo and Mark could only charge their meals to me if they ate together because I wanted them to get together often, otherwise they would have to charge the meals against their allowance, which was just enough.
Also, for a long, long time, we always flew economy. I didn’t mind economy, but then I got bigger and, like now, I’m bigger and it’s so much harder to fly, especially since I have this tendency to slouch in my seat.
HOW DID YOU KEEP THIS GOING WHEN YOU WERE SO BUSY HERE AND AWAY FROM YOUR SONS WHILE THEY WERE IN US?
Mahirap noon (it was hard then), but we went to see them as often as possible. That was one of our pleasures, going to Philadelphia to see the boys. We would spend the days like we were from Philadelphia. Walang spoiled-spoiled (we didn’t spoil ourselves), walang limo-limo (we didn’t hire a limo service to take us around). We have a house in Los Angeles, just a small one, a townhouse, and we’d be together just watching TV and we loved our small kitchen. Kami lang ang maliit na bahay doon (ours is only small house there), but we don’t find it necessary to move to a much bigger house.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE THAT, NOT GIVING YOUR KIDS WHAT YOU COULD VERY WELL AFFORD TO GIVE THEM?
I guess it’s a matter of balance. We weren’t very strict. Minsan bibigyan, minsan hindi (Sometimes you give in, sometimes you don’t). Pero luckily, they weren’t spoiled, they weren’t very demanding. Cynthia and I, we’re very lucky. We have good kids.
WHAT MAJOR PROBLEMS DID YOU HAVE RAISING THE KIDS?
I do not say wala (none). Almost wala. I cannot say wala, but right now, wala akong maisip (I can’t think of anything).
HOW DID YOU INSTILL HARD WORK IN YOUR CHILDREN?
Maybe, they saw how we were, my wife and I, we’re really both hardworking. Everybody knows how I started. Nagtitinda ako ng isda sa palengke (I was selling fish in the market). I’ve always worked hard for the money and I’ve always been business-minded, an entrepreneur. You know, when you are business-minded, you tend to give your money to the business, so in your head, you never have enough money, especially when your business is doing well. It means you’re growing. Sometimes, I don’t even like to eat when I feel I don’t have money because it’s needed in the business. Luckily, my wife is also like that.
Some people think, poor MBV, he works too hard, even now because I’m up by 5 a.m. and I’m at work by 6. It’s not such a great sacrifice. I’m already up eh. What else would I be doing? My wife is still sleeping. Life in politics happens at night. That used to be my life when I was a politician, but now I don’t like the nightlife anymore. I’ve discovered the joy in waking up early, when there is quiet, your first cup of coffee. Wow! Ang liwa-liwanag ng mind mo (You think so clearly).
WHAT WAS YOUR ADVICE TO MARK WHEN HE DECIDED TO JOIN THE CURRENT CABINET?
Politics is not exactly bad. Public service is not automatically bad. I’m sad that everybody’s so cynical about it. When you’re in politics, everybody thinks you’re the bad guy.
He is not corrupt. I can tell you this with a very straight face. Mark is not corrupt. I just told the kids, “‘Wag kayo gagawa ng pera. Marami na akong pera. Marami na kayong pera (Don’t worry about making money. We have a lot of money).” It’s not worth it eh. It’s not also fair to our future public officials.
I hoped for a cabinet position for Mark, any cabinet position. I didn’t expect he was going to be given DPWH. I was surprised that he did very well, from where I sit because I’m very familiar with the roads in the Philippines. And I must say, in the last three years ang daming roads na nagawa sa Pilipinas (so many roads have been built). I travel a lot, around the provinces for Camella, and I’ve never seen this much construction activity. Every road that’s being built, it makes me proud as a father.
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AS A FATHER?
Where they are now is the fulfillment of my dreams. This is what I have longed for for them. My son is a CEO, my daughter is going to be a congresswoman, and Mark is a cabinet member. I mean this is it. It can’t be any better.
After years of public service, Manny Villar returned to private life, working as chairman of the Philippines’ largest homebuilder Vista & Landscapes, as well as Starmalls, one of the biggest mall operators in the country.
HIS FATHER’S SON
In his own words, how Mark Villar rises to the challenge of fatherhood
‘I think ever since I was young we never really had much. It was always simple taste, simple happiness. When I was in high school, or even when I was in college, it never seemed like “I can’t afford this, sayang naman.” What our allowance was, that was all we had. Kami ng kuya ko tuwang tuwa kami makakain lang sa medyo masarap na restaurant (my brother and I would be happy to get a chance to eat at a really good restaurant) once a week. That’s how I learned it is really relative. It was never the more you spend, the happier you are. It is really your values and your perspective. We were raised to be simple, to appreciate simple things.
I always saw my father na hindi naman siya mayabang (never boastful) but look how far he has come. If I can achieve even half of what my father has achieved, that’s okay.
That’s what I saw, his example. He’s been very successful doing what he’s doing, being a leader. Those are the values I grew up with. I hope to do the same really, trying to inculcate the same values to my daughter Emma, although she’s still young. It’s a very good way to raise your kids.
How I am with Emma will always be a work in progress, but I’ll always remember how I was raised. I’m adjusting because, right now, I don’t know, bata pa lang marunong na mag-swipe (she’s still so young but she already knows how to swipe on gadgets). They are exposed to so many more things, that I have to be doubly careful about what she is exposed to in this early age. In my time, we had Encyclopedia Britannica. Wala pang internet (There was no internet). We’ll see what’s going to happen. But I’ll do my best. It’ll always be down to the basics—the values that were taught to me.
It’s not really in our nature to spoil or be spoiled. Our happiness has never been about material things. I think we are like artists who can paint. But we have a different canvas. We’re just happy creating these. It never was, “We need to do this, we need more money.” It’s more of “This is what we have.”
When our family entered politics, I never had a negative view about it. I always thought that it’s quite an important legacy—the family’s legacy. At some point someone has to carry on that legacy.
When I entered DPWH, I remembered what my father used to say, even when I was young, about roads connecting the north to the south. That’s something I brought with me to DPWH, this kind of vision. That was one of the things that really stuck to me, not knowing that, one day, I would be in a position to turn some of these dreams into reality.’