The Politics of ‘Faking Poverty’

by Perry Diaz

A little over a week ago, columnist Billy Esposo’s article, “How Manny Villar lied and used the death of his brother Danny,” created a maelstrom of controversy that unleashed a torrent of criticism against presidential candidate Manny Villar for his claim that his family was so poor that his brother died because they couldn’t afford to buy him medicine.

It all started when Villar, in his “PANATA (Advocacy)” TV commercial, said: “Nakaranas na ba kayong … mamatayan ng kapatid dahil wala kang pera pangpagamot (Have you experienced losing a brother because you did not have the money to provide him proper medical care)?” It was a tear-jerker “testimonial” of how poor Villar’s family was when he was growing up. It earned him sympathy and respect. His poll ratings started to shoot up and came to within two percent of presidential frontrunner Noynoy Aquino. Instantly, Villar’s rags-to-riches life story became the talk of the town. His success became everybody’s dream. He was believed, emulated, adored, and loved. Suddenly, poor people were captivated by Villar’s magic, enthralled in virtual reality of a good life under the presidency of the man who broke the yoke of poverty and became one of the ten richest men in the country today. And captivated they were… until the truth set them free.

Faking Poverty

Truth came in an outpouring of articles written by some of the country’s best journalists: Billy Esposo, Lito Banayo, Solita Collas-Monsod, Conrado de Quiros, Manuel L. Quezon III, and many more. Their articles tell incontrovertible proof and compelling arguments that Villar lied about the death of his brother.

But what is sad is why Villar used the death of his brother to gain sympathy to increase his chances of winning the presidential elections? It was a calculated risk realizing that if he pulled it off, he would fulfill his dream of becoming president of the country. However, I’m pretty sure that he was also aware that if the truth came out, it would bring him down.

He took the gamble… and lost.

In an attempt to control the self-inflicting damage to his candidacy, Villar’s media people started spinning stories insisting that Villar was dirt poor. They’re saying that Danny was admitted to the charity ward of FEU Hospital. If that was the case, then Villar’s family didn’t have to worry about buying medicine for Danny — the charity ward would have provided for all the medicine Danny needed to recover from his illness.

But Danny’s illness was a complication from leukemia which at that time was incurable. Danny was terminally ill when he was admitted to the charity ward. So when Villar said in his TV commercial, “Nakaranas na ba kayong … mamatayan ng kapatid dahil wala kang pera pangpagamot,” he lied. It was farthest from the truth.

Plagiarizing campaign ads

Recently, another controversy arose from one of Villar’s ads. Journalist Toto Causing exposed another Villar “fake” when he posted, “Manny Villar has been accused of plagiarizing the television advertisement campaign of a presidential candidate of Argentina, Lopez Murphy.” Causing stated: “Dubbed as the ‘upside-down’ advertisement, Villar’s TV ad narrated lines as each line is highlighted downwards and after reaching the most bottom line he narrated it again but reading each line in the upward direction. It turned out that Villar actually copied the advertisement of Argentina’s presidential candidate.” The Villar ad and the plagiarized Murphy ad can be viewed at, “Did Villar commit plagiary in his campaign ad?”

Now, not only is Villar faking poverty, he is plagiarizing campaign ads.

Politics of ‘identifying with the poor’

Identifying with the poor is a popular election campaign strategy particularly in a country where the people are predominantly poor. “I’m poor, I’m one of you,” would resonate well with the marginalized sector.

Former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada successfully used that strategy when he entered politics. He used the moniker “Erap,” which is “pare” spelled backward, to identify with the poor, whose men commonly used “pare” — a contraction of “kumpare” — to address each other.

When he launched his presidential bid in the late 90s, he used the slogan, “Erap para sa mahirap” (Erap for the poor). It catapulted him to the presidency garnering the highest margin in presidential elections since the time of Marcos. The fact that he was born in Tondo, an impoverished district of Manila, helped seal his identification with the poor. But, most importantly, he showed a genuine sincerity in his sympathy and concern for the poor.

The late President Ramon “Monching” Magsaysay was the most successful politician in terms of identifying with the poor. Although he came from a middle-class family, Magsaysay projected himself as coming from humble background — he once worked as a car mechanic. When he was Secretary of Defense under President Elpidio Quirino, he started the “Land for the Landless” which eventually broke the backbone of the communist Huk insurgency. With the slogan, “Magsaysay is my Guy,” he won the presidential elections in 1953 defeating his former boss Quirino by 68.9% of the vote.

Politics of ‘faking poverty’

It did not then come as a surprise that Villar used the same strategy that Magsaysay and Estrada used successfully to win the presidency. However, Villar had a big problem: he is filthy rich. And that would not bode well with the poor. But he had one thing that he could use to his advantage: like Erap, Villar was born in the poor district of Tondo. All he had to do was embellish his life story.

To make the story short, Villar fashioned, or faked, a new image of himself — a rags-to-riches success story: the poor boy who fulfilled everybody’s dream of becoming rich. He would have succeeded had he not falsely used the death of his brother in his campaign commercial. That fake campaign commercial opened a can of worms that eventually gnawed acidly at the manufactured façade he built around his persona.

As a result, his campaign started to crumble. The latest Pulse Asia survey conducted on March 21-28 showed Noynoy Aquino pulling ahead of Villar: 37% for Noynoy, 25% for Villar. There is a trend that is showing a steady support for Noynoy. However, Villar’s ratings continue to slide from a high 35%, which was within 2% of Noynoy’s 37%, in the January 22-26 Pulse Asia survey.

In politics, once your ratings start to fall, your challenge is how to stop the gravitational pull. And like a meteor falling from space into the stratosphere, gravity takes over and what happens next is the spectacular disintegration of the meteor.

Is Villar’s meteoric rise going to disintegrate like a meteor falling from the sky?


15 Responses.

  1. Jess Guim says:

    You always me make me laugh with your “Balitang Kutsero.” This article makes no difference. Mheeeeeeeeeh.

  2. Jo Farina says:

    For a moment I thought I’d go for Villar. I was impressed by his rags to riches story. However, when all the shenanigans about him surfaced: C5 controversy, Norzagaray, etc. land grabbing, faking poverty to be identified with the poorest of poor, plagiarized ads and vote buying in the form of ‘scholarships’, free housing for OFW as shown on a TV noontime program, ang pag-gamit ng halos mga hubong babaeng mananayaw sa kanyang mga rally para makahakot ng tao, hindi ko na alam kung ano pa ang aking iisipin tungkol sa kanya. Sana nagpakatotoo na lang siya. Kung tunay ang adhikain niyang makatulong sa sambayanang pilipino, sa dami ng kanyang kayamanan – sana itinulong na lang at hindi itinapon sa walang saysay at di kapanipaniwalang napakamahal na patalastas (advertisements).

  3. Bart Bartolome says:

    Kung totoo lahat itong expose ni Perry Diaz, then by all means huwag
    nating bigyan ng puwang na manalo itong si Manny Villar (Money Villaroyo, this is another possibility of the “oligarchs” joining
    forces to defeat Noynoy otherwise sa kulungan silang lahat pupulutin
    kung matutuloy ang “Jury Justice System ni Toto Causing at Atty. Melo). Huling baraja na ito ng mamamayang Filipino upang ituwid
    at baguhin ang lahat ng pagsasamantala at pagyurak sa katauhan at
    kalayaan ng ating Bayang aping-api dahil sa mga magnanakaw at
    halimaw na ang dios nila ay si Satanas hindi si Jesu Kristo na
    Anak ng Dios.

  4. I wish everybody would tell the truth. It would help everybody who do not know any of the candidates in person like me.

    I am just reading everything that I see and hear. At the beginning, I thought it was real. Now, it is difficult to find out who is really telling the truth.

    I just want the PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE who will help the people and our beloved PHILIPPINES to be much better than what it is at present.

    Remy Riborozo in San Francisco, Ca.

    • perry says:

      Hi Remy,

      In the end the truth will come out. I just hope it would come out before the elections so the voters can make an intelligent decision for whom to vote for.


  5. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    Our media is partly to blame if a politician uses the poor to advance his political image and boost his candidacy whether during the campaign period or not.

    This is obviously true if the media favors a certain candidate it wants to win.

    I still remember President Garcia then. Diosdado Macapagal was running against Garcia for the presidency. The survey result separates them by a hairline difference.

    As the national election gets closer, a picture of an old poor lady scooping the spilled rice on the street was flashed on the front page of the newspapers the following day, with a negative write up against the Garcia administration. It was sensational news and made an impact why probably Macapagal won over Garcia.

    Remember the media showing Magsaysay holding a broom shaking hands with taong bayan?. Magsaysay won over Quirino.

    Remember “Erap para sa mahirap”? And yet the media was mild to Erap at that time compared to Villar’s “Faking Poverty” negative write ups now. Erap won hands down over his rivals even if you combine their votes all together.

    Despite my comment, my preference, even at the outset, is not Villar, even if the media reverses itself at the end. Sorry.

  6. perry says:


    A nice analysis.

    Ben Pablo
    (Sent by email)

  7. perry says:

    Comment by Yuko Takei 1 hour ago Delete Comment Villar has to fake poverty to win the majority of the Filipino people. He’s being wise doing that. It’s called “Lambutching the poor,” whose votes when counted properly and honestly can surely give the candidate the coveted victory and sit at the palace by the murky river, much better no doubt than to tell the poor that some candidate is too rich to try to steal anymore, which everyone knows is not true, for the more money they have, the greedier they become!!!

    Yuko Takei
    (from Politically Incorrect)

  8. jeremy_beaven says:

    mudslinging. what else is new? noynoy camp/supporters throwing dirt against villar. villar against noynoy.

    buti na lang, si GIBO presidente ko. Very clean and stellar ang record, walang maibabato other than rubbing in on him the pathetic haka-haka that he’ll be a puppet of GMA.

  9. perry says:

    Villarroyo is bad, really bad. This Camella guy went to the extent of using his dead brother to emphasize his “fake poverty” hoping to get more of Erap’s loyals. Imagine, binuhay ang matagal ng nakahimlay na kapatid. Ayun, nagreklamo at kapatid at binumerang sya!

    (from Politically Incorrect)

  10. Jimmy A. Cura says:

    Villar Of the Poor and For the Poor

    The demonization of Manny Villar at all costs appears to be the main campaign strategy of the Noynoy Aquino camp. Destroy Villar and you ensure Aquino’s victory.

    Noynoy, of course, is quick to deny that he knows or has anything to do with the black propaganda emanating from his camp, particularly when the public reacts negatively to the black prop. The strategy seems to be to let Noynoy deny he ever said anything derogatory (to preserve his carefully manicured lily-white image) and leave it to his publicists and wreckers to do the wrecking, demonizing, and character assassination.

    These character assassins and reputation wreckers have not spared the Villar family’s personal history. They have dug into old documents that bear witness to the family’s early struggles. With heavily yellow-tinted glasses, they have read their own interpretation into the documents and foisted on the public – ex cathedra – their own version of Manny Villar’s early years.

    Many readers and observers are beginning to ask: Is there nothing sacred anymore when it comes to the character and persona of a fellow human being and his family, let alone a competitor for elective office? Is everything fair game in the name of electoral victory?

    This Aquino strategy of “destroy-and-win” has been let loose on Villar and his family with unrelenting viciousness. Nothwithstanding this, those who have known Manny Villar up close and personal remain steadfast in their knowledge of who the man really is and what he has accomplished in his life.

    1. Manny Villar was not born wealthy or even middle-class as Noynoy Aquino, Gibo Teodoro, Erap Estrada, Dick Gordon, Nick Perlas, JC de los Reyes, and Jamby Madrigal were.

    Most of these presidential aspirants were literally born with a silver spoon in their mouths and led lifestyles associated with the wealthy and the privileged from their very childhood. Nothwithstanding their rhetorical claims, the experiences of the poor are alien to their own life experiences.

    Not so Manny Villar.

    Sure, his family was not dirt-poor. But they were certainly poor. They lived in a small, cramped and rented house. His mother had to wake up very early in the morning for her buy-and-sell fish business in the public market. Eldest son Manny had to accompany her and help out. They had to do it so that they could help support a growing family. Manny’s father was a government employee. He did his part as paterfamilias on his minimum wage as civil servant. But it wasn’t enough to support his family. His wife had to help out. Everyone in the family had to help out.

    That is what most Filipino families who do not belong to the middle and upper class have to do in order to get along in life. Many of us who come from this socio-economic class know the struggles that need to be made in order to survive and beat the many odds.

    Many of us can relate to Manny Villar’s experience and claims.

    Have we experienced a member of the family getting very seriously ill when we were completely broke (walang-wala) and still tried to get the best medical treatment we could arrange, let the chips fall where they may (pikit-mata at bahala na; basta hahanap ng remedyo!?

    Yes, we have. We had to beg and make promises, humble ourselves and mortgage part of our future, if necessary. It was the only thing we could do for our loved one. Survival demanded it. No ifs and buts. Sometimes, we pulled through; other times, we didn’t. C’est la vie!

    This is the essential message of Manny Villar’s story. And we can relate to it and find nothing false or contrived about it. This is the ordinary life of the poor and underprivileged in our country. For many, it is sometimes worse.

    2. Manny’s Nanay Curing grew from a mere fish vendor to eventually a fish dealer. By doing this and working hard, she gradually became better off financially. Anything wrong with that?

    Nanay Curing Villar was determined to make a better life for herself and her family. She worked hard for it. And she gradually succeeded. Manny helped her in the process and learned precious lessons for life from it, one of which is Sipag At Tiyaga. Anything wrong with this? None.

    In fact, this lesson is worth sharing with as many of our countrymen as we can. Why does Noynoy’s camp now disparage it? Why do they trivialize it? For the sake of diminishing Villar’s worth and, hopefully, enhancing the chances of Noynoy, is it right to deride Sipag At Tiyaga as a lesson for life worth sharing with our countrymen?

    3. Manny’s father, as a government employee and, therefore, a bona fide member of GSIS, was able to obtain a loan so he could buy a bigger lot and build a larger house for his growing family. What is wrong with this? Shouldn’t every member of GSIS or SSS or Pag-IBIG be encouraged to do this for the benefit of one’s family? Isn’t this one of the standard benefits of a bona fide member?

    The lot that Manuel Villar, Sr. needed was then available in San Rafael village in Tondo. At that time, San Rafael was not the gated village that people know it to be now. Decades ago, when it was first subdivided for public purchase, it did not have the amenities that were gradually added through the years. There were only a few houses and a lot of open space in the area at the time.

    But for Manny’s Tatay, it was enough for him to start building a larger house that would be adequate for his growing family; certainly, better than the small cramped house he was renting in Moriones. It was also a lot and house he could own eventually, on terms that he could afford on his salary as a government employee, augmented by the income of his hardworking wife whose fish vending business was doing good, thanks to her and son Manny’s hard work.

    Isn’t this a story that resonates with most of us from the ranks of the poor and the underprivileged? Eventually, through hard and sustained work, we are able to improve our lot, like buying our own piece of land and building our own home on long-term financing, for which we qualified because we of our own hard-earned credentials.

    Is there anything false or contrived or reprehensible about this experience? Why do the Aquino camp apologists and publicists snort at it?

    4. Manny first attended a public school, the Isabelo de los Reyes Elementary School. But he had some problems that may have had to do with his early morning chores at the public market with Nanay Curing and the difficulty of getting to school punctually.

    So, the family decided to move him to another school closer to home. It was just a short walk from their house. He could catch up with his classes faster. The school belonged to the parish church nearby. It was a private school technically, but nothing like Ateneo or La Salle or even any of the lesser known private schools of our times. It was not expensive to attend it. Even the Villar family of meager means could afford it. Attending a private school did not necessarily mean being well off financially.

    Some people have been educated in private schools as scholars or working students and, therefore, exempt from school fees or given generous discounts. Some have opted for a small private school near their home instead of a public school with better reputation for very practical reasons, such as proximity to one’s residence and, therefore, savings on time, transport money, and other related schooling expenses.

    The conclusion that just because one attends a private school, one must be financially well off or not poor is a non sequitur.

    5. Was Manny Villar’s family really poor in Manny’s boyhood? Of course, they were. Did they remain poor? No, they worked their way out of poverty through, among other things, Sipag At Tiyaga.

    This is what makes Manny Villar an interesting study and role model for many Filipinos:

    • someone who understands the plight of the poor for having lived it;
    • someone who knows how to help the poor break free from the chains of poverty for having done it;
    • someone who, from being poor, has become wealthy, and can show the way to many poor Filipinos;
    • someone who can stand up to the wealthy by birth and inheritance and give them a run for their money; and
    • someone who can help turn this country around from poverty and misery to genuine change and prosperity within one generation.

    6. Manny Villar has walked his talk. Others can only talk about their ideas. That is the big difference between Villar and Aquino; between Villar and all the other presidentiables. ###

  11. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    Comments on Mr. Cura’s article.

    The article written by Mr. Cura is worth reading for clarification on the negative article written by a publicist entitled “Faking Poverty”.

    I hope, in fairness to the Villar camp, Mr. Cura’s article should be given a space in the Inquirer.

    It is good that Mr. Cura did not entitle his article “Faking Poverty, A Fake Article”.

    Senator Villar to me is a successful entrepreneur. No matter what the contrarians say against him.

    Being an educated businessman (UP, MBA grad if true), he applied his knowledge on how to manage and control the business environment that surrounds his real estate projects, in his favor. This is the reason why he rose from a mere ordinary man to a successful businessman and politician as well.

    If Villar committed crimes in his business deals we have the court of justice to punish him. Bring charges against him.

    Having stated that, the Philippines, however, needs a president who is a generalist with full grasp of the law. One who could unite the oppositions to support his/her Administration. One who could represent the country with dignity, a national leader respected by the international community of nations. One whose program in running the government is realistic, achievable, and addresses the country’s economic recovery and peace and order.

  12. Ajay Aximo says:

    Why will the Filipino people elect a president who has questionable track records like C-5, land of the Dumagats, housing projects, etc.? It is not wrong to be a rich candidate like Sen. Villar but how he became rich or added to his billions of pesos is suspect of graft and corruption. You (Mr. Mac Flores, jr.) said leave it to the courts and you are very confident about it because you know that he can buy his way out. Sen. Villar should quit his campaign for phil. president because he is lying and should be ashame of himself. Considering that as if he does not need money, why won’t he donate his money to charity or to the Philippine government to used for programs or projects that will benefit the poor? The intention of Sen. Villar to run the country for himself will enable himself to be untouchable by justice and will doom the Philippines for massive graft and corruption. I believe the Filipinos will not allow this to happen.

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