A clear-eyed look at the job ahead
In her inimitable, blunt and plainspoken manner, Sen. Cynthia Villar admits that “I’m not so excited to be in the Senate.” This has nothing to do with her landing in 11th place among the 12 winners, I gather, but rather with “serving so long in the House, for nine years, so I am used to the work I will be doing.”
Being the first among the first-termer senators to grace the “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” forum, Villar was welcomed with a bouquet of peach-colored roses, a reference to her and the Nacionalista Party’s signature orange campaign color. But it seems that when it comes to knuckling down to work on her “pet” bills, the senator prefers to look at things in black and white without the rose-colored lenses most neophytes adopt.
So what are her priorities during her first Senate term? Villar says she filed all of five bills during the opening last Monday: two on overseas workers, one on agriculture, one on trade and industry, and another on education.
The fate of the agricultural sector seems to be foremost on her mind. Asked what was her “greatest realization” during the campaign, Villar says it was that “we are mainly an agricultural country.” Despite their proximity to Metro Manila, she points out, “provinces like Laguna, Batangas, etc. are still mainly agricultural. What more provinces that are far away?”
In fact, she says, “if you want to help the country, you must help develop the agricultural sector.” Two-thirds of the population, she adds, is engaged in agricultural pursuits.
Although she was head of the “Lady Legislators” committee during her time in the House which pushed for and passed numerous “women-friendly” laws, Villar says she will not work as a “gender advocate” in the Senate, preferring to focus on poverty-alleviation and development during this first term. “If I must single out a single issue to which I will give priority,” says the senator, “it will be the economic empowerment of women, specifically on livelihood and job generation.”
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ONE of Villar’s priority bills, in fact, is one calling for the acceleration of the national irrigation program. “Officials keep saying that the reason our productivity is so low is the inadequate irrigation infrastructure. What I would want is to budget enough to get the systems in place all over the country. And if our agricultural productivity remains low, then perhaps it’s time we look for other causes.”
Agriculture, Villar points out, “goes beyond growing crops.” The government, she says, must also reach out to farmers and help them not just in growing more crops but also in processing these into higher value products, as well as in finding more and broader markets.
Because of the importance of agriculture in our national life, says the senator, she is aspiring to head two committees: those on agriculture and on science and technology, even if, she admits, advisers tell her “S&T” is “such a small committee, with very few, low-key issues.” But, she points out, “we need technology to help our farmers not just earn more income, but [also] upgrade their knowledge and skills.”
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APPLYING technology to upgrade skills, raise income and increase the self-esteem of individuals and communities is something Senator Villar is very familiar with.
During the hiatus between her last House term and her run for the Senate, she managed the Villar Foundation, which concentrated on providing skills development training to communities (many of the students were women) on the use of indigenous and even waste materials and, with the use of new machines and equipment, transforming these into useful household items.
The Villar Foundation is most famous for its use of water lilies—which otherwise clog esteros, canals, rivers and other waterways—harvesting and turning these into material for baskets, mats, hampers and bags. The technology that the foundation developed has been spread not just in the Villar bailiwick of Las Piñas but also in other towns nationwide.
At the moment, Villar’s focus is a technology developed by a young man in Davao which makes use of plastic trash and juice packs—the most common material found clogging drainage outlets—and transforms them into rigid school chairs and desks. “The only problem, which we are working on, is that the desks are too heavy,” she notes.
But she clearly sees the potential in the technology. “Two trucks of these plastic junk can be used to manufacture 15 chairs,” she points out. “And the best thing is that any local government can well afford to put up a recycling and manufacturing center, since one needs only P2.5 million for the equipment, and P3.5 million for the building.”
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A NEW mantra for the senator, she says, is “no training without implementation.”
In her years working with communities and sharing expertise and experience, Villar says she has grown impatient “with programs that do nothing but train but have nothing to show afterwards on how the training helped the people and community.”
In her search for “models to replicate,” especially for budding entrepreneurs looking for outlets for their creativity and energy, the Villar Foundation, she says, is launching the “Sipag (Industry) Awards” which seek to document the stories of successful entrepreneurs and income-generating projects. Some 20 winners will be selected, with the first 10 receiving P250,000 each for their livelihood projects and/or enterprises, and the other 10 receiving P100,000 each.
“Our goal is to make these stories available to as many people as possible, and to replicate their methods and success to benefit more people,” says Senator Villar. The deadline for entries is Aug. 2; the awarding will be done in December.
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