A champion of the youth
“Nakakatampo” (inducing one to sulk) is how Secretary Joel Villanueva of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) describes his current situation.
For starters, Villanueva, a “kaibigan” (friend) of P-Noy since their days in Congress and a tested and loyal ally and Cabinet member, has been facing charges of corruption for the last two years. He is included in the list of congressmen allegedly involved in the “pork barrel scam” prepared by the Department of Justice and submitted to the Ombudsman for investigation.
This, says Villanueva, despite the finding of the National Bureau of Investigation that “21 out of 21, not 20 out of 21, but 21 out of 21, documents allegedly showing my involvement in the scam were fake, my signature forged.”
The charges arose from disclosures by whistle-blowers who used to work for Janet Lim Napoles, the principal accused in the elaborate scheme that has already netted three senators (one of them released on bail). Guesting at yesterday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” media forum, Villanueva showed photos of spurious documents that were used to build the case against him. The most telling, he says, is the letterhead used in an alleged request for fund release that showed him as the party-list representative of the “Buhay” party, when in truth the party he represented in the House was “Cibac.”
When it’s pointed out that perhaps he was included in the list of Napoles beneficiaries to disprove allegations that the P-Noy administration was ignoring the culpability of the President’s allies, Villanueva chafes and declares: “I don’t want to give in to speculation that I’m a sacrificial lamb.”
This may be the reason the youthful Villanueva (he turned 40 last month) has been distancing himself from the Liberal Party, to which he never belonged, he clarifies. But obviously, given his closeness to the President and his accomplishments at Tesda, Villanueva clearly hoped that when he threw his hat into the race for the Senate, he would have the President’s, if not his party’s, blessing.
He has never made his senatorial ambitions a secret, the Tesda secretary said. But while most assumed he would be part of the administration ticket, these days, he says, he has been “talking with different groups” about his possible inclusion in their line-ups.
Why is this so? Because, he says, “I am not ready to run with someone who thinks I’m a criminal.”
Obviously, he’s referring to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, whose own senatorial ambitions are becoming ever more obvious, and who must have had to sign off on the DOJ decision to include him in the second batch of accused in the pork barrel mess.
“She has been spotted more often nowadays in the company of the President,” Villanueva notes, remarking on the increasing possibility of a senatorial run for her. (De Lima’s high approval rating from netizens after her stand on the charges filed against the ruling council of the Iglesia ni Cristo has made that possibility more and more credible.) And that is why he is currently sulking and distancing himself from the President’s party and allies.
Still, it is with a lot of pride that Villanueva speaks of his years spent at the helm of Tesda, the government’s arm in providing training for “tech-voc” or technical-vocational courses. Tesda is seen as the main engine for generating employment through the transmittal of employable skills to young people who do not or cannot pursue a college degree.
Villanueva estimates that since he took over Tesda in 2010, they have been able to produce 7.2 million graduates, 900,000 of whom were scholars. Of these graduates, the Tesda head says more than 71 percent found jobs, many of them abroad.
The Tesda program is a response to a decades-old mismatch between employers’ demand for workers and the supply available to them. Mostly, this is because many young people (and their parents) believe a college degree is necessary for employment, and a white-collar job is preferable and prestigious.
But it turns out that the greater demand is for skilled workers, precisely the sort of “tech-voc” graduates that Tesda and allied institutions produce. Villanueva has an entire power point presentation of Tesda graduates who are doing well in their jobs as mechanics, chefs, machinists, even massage therapists. And it doesn’t hurt that these graduates, especially those based abroad, earn many times the salaries of their white-collar counterparts.
The demand for Tesda graduates keeps growing. Villanueva cites the Hanjin shipbuilding operations in Subic, which is currently in need of 2,000 workers who, aside from earning a substantial income, are also guaranteed free food and lodging in the shipyards. “This is because the Hanjin shipyard is building 20 ships a year, compared to the one in Korea which is producing only half that number,” says Villanueva.
“My passion is for young people,” declares Villanueva, baring a major thrust in his campaign should he decide to push through with his Senate run. And the reason Tesda has been able to help more young people than ever find their productive place in the sun? “We have totally eliminated the once-rampant graft and corruption in Tesda,” he declares. And surely, he is not unaware of the irony behind his claim.
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.