Tarred with the same ‘pork’ brush
If he should fall out of official favor, Tesda Director General Joel Villanueva says he can count on a “Plan B”: find employment as a barista. As head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), Villanueva wanted to prove his belief in the worth of the courses offered by the institution by undergoing training in food and hospitality himself. He is thus licensed by Tesda to work in the food service industry, which includes serving as a barista in one of the many coffee bars proliferating around the country.
In fact, Villanueva is such a believer in his agency that during a recent dinner, the first question he asked of our server who had introduced himself was: “Do you hold a certificate from Tesda?”
But don’t mistake the boyish-looking Villanueva’s “Plan B” as a serious “out” in case he falls prey to political machinations or intrigue. This is in the face of recent developments in the widening “pork barrel scandal” in which his name, along with those of other P-Noy allies, has been dragged. In fact, members of the opposition have posed questions on why “only” senators and congressmen allied with opposition parties have so far been charged in the “pork” investigations.
This, despite the fact that the name of Villanueva, along with former Rep. Ruffy Biazon (now Customs chief), and even Interior Secretary Mar Roxas have been found in documents submitted by “whistle-blowers” belonging to the firm of Janet Lim-Napoles, the so-called “brains” of the pork scam, and in a special audit conducted by the Commission on Audit.
* * *
Earlier, Villanueva said that in the years covered by the allegations, he had been part of the so-called “impeachment clique” that had prepared impeachment charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
As a consequence, he and his colleagues were frozen out of the “pork” distribution. And since he “did not get a single cent from his pork barrel allocation,” he could not have been involved in the alleged diversion of PDAF funds to benefit fake NGOs created by Napoles, with some of the funds going to his own pocket.
A source once told me that the former president even made it a habit to personally peruse the list of allocations available to legislators, and that she would personally “cross out” the names of those who were out of favor, including, of course, those who had filed impeachment charges against her.
Villanueva believes his signature was somehow forged by Napoles’ operatives (an explanation similarly appropriated by legislators more directly implicated in the charges). Thus, he urged the National Bureau of Investigation to dig deeper and verify if the signature on the purported requests for disbursement is really his.
Indeed, in the search for the culpable and the greedy in the widening “pork” probe, it’s unfortunate that some opposers (including a Catholic bishop) insist that some of
P-Noy’s allies be included in the charges, as if this would prove the “objectivity” of the investigators. But what if these friends and allies are truly innocent? What if they are truly victims and not cohorts? Do we tar them with the same brush if only to quell our cynicism?
* * *
VILLANUEVA served as a representative of Cibac—a party-list group that ran on an anticorruption platform—for nine years until 2010, when he was appointed by President Aquino to head Tesda.
He was only 23 years old in his first term, he recalls, the “Benjamin” of the House, and as a member of the opposition forged a firm friendship with then Tarlac Rep. Benigno Aquino III. In fact, Villanueva’s name emerged as one of those to be included in the LP coalition’s senatorial lineup in 2010 but he had to be dropped to accommodate representatives of other political parties.
Instead, he got appointed to head Tesda, with a mission to reform the agency and pursue the task of encouraging “tech-voc” or technical-vocational education. “We must convince our people that a college degree is not necessary to succeed, including earning a huge salary,” says Villanueva. He cites Tesda graduates who have found work as welders, mechanics, chefs and masseuses here and abroad and earning even more than white-collar workers. He cites one female welder he met aboard a cruise liner who was earning enough from her job abroad to save up for a cruise.
* * *
DURING his oath-taking as Tesda head, P-Noy saw Villanueva’s wife Gladys standing proudly onstage, visibly pregnant. Breaking protocol, the President approached Gladys and gave her a high-five. This is because throughout his term in the House, Joel and Gladys’ struggle to get pregnant was well-known among his colleagues. In fact, he says, this was one of the reasons he stood firmly behind and worked actively for the passage of the Reproductive Health Law, as fertility assistance for couples is one of the elements of reproductive health.
Today, Joel and Gladys are proud and happy parents to a son and daughter, thanks to reproductive technology here and abroad. “I had always dreamed of having my own child,” explains Joel whose life story centering on his struggles with fatherhood was the subject of a TV drama. So although his wife was bringing up the possibility of adoption, “I remained firm in my vision of one day holding my own child in my arms.”
Surely, someone who struggled for so long and so publicly to achieve parenthood would not fritter away his legacy: a good name and reputation, all for the dubious rewards of “pork.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.