I am often asked, why have I not commented about Manny Villar. A couple of things. One, I have been tied up with the front-runner, Noynoy Aquino. Two, Villar is still an unknown quantity to me. Unknown in the sense that I can “read” Manny Villar, but I am doing my due diligence that I am “reading” Villar correctly. The crux of the matter to, when it comes to Villar is the unresolved C5 mess. For one, I don’t want to dismiss him outright if the C-5 issue is proven wrong. I don’t want to choose him either because, for the same reason – what if the C5 allegations are right?
If there is one thing I have learned about politics – it is to listen to what a candidate’s enemies are saying, observe how the candidate is reacting, and do your due diligence. That’s the long route. If you ask me, how about the short route – it is, if in doubt, DON’T.
The core issues surrounding Noynoy Aquino is other than being the son of Ninoy and Cory – he has nothing much of value to bring to the table. His recent flip flopping on taxes, Hacienda Luisita, and debates – simply validates what I have said all along – Noynoy does not have political will and has a superficial grasp of the critical national issues.
The core issue hounding Manny Villar is one of ethics, specifically conflict of interest.
A Question of Ethics
What is ethics? Let’s go to Columbia Encyclopedia to refresh our memories on ethics:
Ethics, in philosophy, the study and evaluation of human conduct in the light of moral principles. Moral principles may be viewed either as the standard of conduct that individuals have constructed for themselves or as the body of obligations and duties that a particular society requires of its members.
Approaches to Ethical Theory
Ethics has developed as people have reflected on the intentions and consequences of their acts. From this reflection on the nature of human behavior, theories of conscience have developed, giving direction to much ethical thinking. Intuitionists (Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Clarke), moral-sense theorists (the 3d earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson), and sentimentalists (J. J. Rousseau, Pierre-Simon Ballanche) postulated an innate moral sense, which serves as the ground of ethical decision. Empiricists (John Locke, Claude Helvétius, John Stuart Mill) deny any such innate principle and consider conscience a power of discrimination acquired by experience. In the one case conscience is the originator of moral behavior, and in the other it is the result of moralizing. Between these extremes there have been many compromises.
The Nature of the Good
Another major difference in the approach to ethical problems revolves around the question of absolute good as opposed to relative good. Throughout the history of philosophy thinkers have sought an absolute criterion of ethics. Frequently moral codes have been based on religious absolutes. Immanuel Kant, in his categorical imperative, attempted to establish an ethical criterion independent of theological considerations. Rationalists (Plato, Baruch Spinoza, Josiah Royce) founded their ethics on a metaphysics.
All varying methods of building an ethical system pose the question of the degree to which morality is authoritative (i.e., imposed by a power outside the individual). If the criterion of morality is the welfare of the state (G. W. Hegel), the state is supreme arbiter. If the authority is a religion, then that religion is the ethical teacher. Hedonism, which equates the good with pleasure in its various forms, finds its ethical criterion either in the good of the individual or the good of the group. An egoistic hedonism (Aristippus, Epicurus, Julien de La Mettrie, Thomas Hobbes) views the good of the individual as the ultimate consideration. A universalistic hedonism, such as utilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham, James Mill), finds the ethical criterion in the greatest good for the greatest number.
Are we on the same page now? Let’s continue.
Understanding Conflict of Interest
This time around, let us review definitions of Conflict of Interest from wikipedia:
More generally, conflicts of interest can be defined as any situation in which an individual or corporation (either private or governmental) is in a position to exploit a professional or official capacity in some way for their personal or corporate benefit.
Depending upon the law or rules related to a particular organization, the existence of a conflict of interest may not, in and of itself, be evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, for many professionals, it is virtually impossible to avoid having conflicts of interest from time to time. A conflict of interest can, however, become a legal matter for example when an individual tries (and/or succeeds in) influencing the outcome of a decision, for personal benefit. A director or executive of a corporation will be subject to legal liability if a conflict of interest breaches his Duty of Loyalty.
There often is confusion over these two situations. Someone accused of a conflict of interest may deny that a conflict exists because he/she did not act improperly. In fact, a conflict of interest can exist even if there are no improper acts as a result of it. (One way to understand this is to use the term “conflict of roles”. A person with two roles—an individual who owns stock and is also a government official, for example—may experience situations where those two roles conflict. The conflict can be mitigated—see below—but it still exists. In and of itself, having two roles is not illegal, but the differing roles will certainly provide an incentive for improper acts in some circumstances.)
Types of conflicts of interests
The following are the most common forms of conflicts of interests:
- Self-dealing, in which an official who controls an organization causes it to enter into a transaction with the official, or with another organization that benefits the official. The official is on both sides of the “deal.”
- Outside employment, in which the interests of one job contradict another,
- Family interests, in which a spouse, child, or other close relative is employed (or applies for employment) or where goods or services are purchased from such a relative or a firm controlled by a relative. For this reason, many employment applications ask if one is related to a current employee. If this is the case, the relative could then recuse from any hiring decisions. See Nepotism.
- Gifts from friends who also do business with the person receiving the gifts. (Such gifts may include non-tangible things of value such as transportation and lodging.)
- Pump and dump, in which a stock broker which owns a security artificially inflates the price by “upgrading” it or spreading rumors, sells the security and adds short position, then “downgrade” the security or spread negative rumors to push the price down.
Other improper acts that are sometimes classified as conflicts of interests are probably better classified elsewhere. Accepting bribes can be classified as corruption; almost everyone in a position of authority, particularly public authority, has the potential for such wrongdoing. Similarly, use of government or corporate property or assets for personal use is fraud, and classifying this as a conflict of interest does not improve the analysis of this problem. Nor should unauthorized distribution of confidential information, in itself, be considered a conflict of interest. For these improper acts, there is no inherent conflict of roles (see above), unless being a (fallible) human being rather than (say) a robot in a position of power or authority is considered to be a conflict.
Has anyone bothered to take a headcount of the staff members of Senators and Congressmen – and identify which office that does not have any relative at all? Sure, everyone’s doing it – is it any less ethical?
Villar, Ethics and Conflict of Interest
We can take it at face value that Villar did not commit any wrongdoing. It still does nor remove the fact that there exists a conflict of interest – much like Cheney and Haliburton. Just because the Americans tolerated it does not mean we Filipinos have to follow that lead.
Kahit pa di isali ang C-5, Villar has not done anything wrong, but he is not off the hook on conflict of interest. Here’s why.
- Villar’s businesses are in the real estate development industry. An industry that works directly with the DPWH – the flagship department when it comes to corruption.
- Villar has not introduced legislation that can reduce or eliminate corruption in public works (Please correct me if am mistaken).
- Villar’s companies have optimized the deficiencies in the system to maximize revenues. It works for Villar’s businesses, it’s all legal – but the taxpayers take a hit. That’s wholesale conflict of interest right there.
Based on the quality and quality of legislative output that I have seen – Manny is prolific , more prolific than Gordon in fact . The thing is… when I zero in on Villar’s legislative output, my spidey sense bugs me and asks, was he being prolific because it served his constituency – or was he being prolific because the legislation he writes provides more opportunities for his businesses to generate a revenue.
Which makes me say it again – Legally, Villar is probably above board. It’s his sense of ethics that bothers me.
Pinoy Berlusconi in the Making? Realpolitik
The one word that comes to my mind when I hear Villar – am reminded of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.
I’ll trust the guy to run a business. My spidey sense is going off that like Noynoy, I can’t trust Villar with the reins of government. Somehow the C-5 issue is a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” kind of thingie.
There are two major schools of thought on rich men running for government office:
- They are rich and therefore will no longer be tempted to steal. Campaign expense is an exercise in philanthropy.
- They are rich and will recover their campaign expenses one way or another – through contracts, or outright malversation
So far, Berlusconi has been hounded by Item #2. The probabilities of that happening with Villar are quite huge, given this C-5 brouhaha.
However, if it boiled down to a shootout – between Noynoy and Villar, given the Indonesian experience of solid growth despite corruption – I will sway towards Villar. Given candidates both with vested interests – I’ll go for the one with better performance – Villar, fully knowing he, like Noynoy will be hounded with corruption allegations.
In fairness to Villar, I was impressed with his handling of the Estrada impeachment. So much so that Arroyo saw the threat posed by Villar if he were to preside over an Arroyo impeachment. Arroyo maneuvered to have Villar replaced with Enrile. it’s one of the reasons why I don’t buy the Villaroyo line.
Fortunately, Noynoy and Villar aren’t the only candidates in town – there are other choices – Gordon provides an alternative – while it is true that past performance does not guarantee a repeat – and then there’s the Peter Principle – sure he might be good as a small town mayor – but a city is an entirely different thing. That’s where we dig into Gordon’s other work experiences – as Senator, as PRC chair, as SBMA chair – to get a glimpse of his leadership style. In doing so, one can spot consistency in terms of political will and delivering results.
I have a quantitative version using the Kepner Tregoe approach – Villar and Noynoy didn’t make the cut as well.
Noemi Dado also applied the KT approach – http://thepoc.net/voters-education/4451.html
In this process of elimination, I have already eliminated Villar and Noynoy.
I have decided not to go for Villar for ethical reasons, Aquino for lack of merit and ability.
If one were to choose the “lesser evil” between Noynoy and Villar – I say toss a coin – we are gonna get screwed both ways anyway.
ABNOY just got an upgrade to ABVNOY – Anyone but Villar and Noynoy.
Fortunately, there are other candidates, GO GORDON! or PERLAS! 🙂