"What is responsible for this?"
In Pulse Asia’s September 2021 survey of possible senatorial winners, one man scored the most dramatic gain in ratings—Mark Aguilar Villar, the self-effacing, painfully shy secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Villar’s share of total votes cast for senators ballooned phenomenally, from 19.4 percent in the June 2021 Pulse Asia survey, to 36.2 percent this week, in the September 2021 poll by the same pollster. The DPWH chief rose from the losing column at 20th in June into the win column, at 10th.
The 16.8-percentage point rise is equivalent to a whopping 8.4 million more votes, phenomenal by the standard of electoral polling this early in the campaign.
Villar is behind No.1. Raffy Tulfo, 2. Alan Peter Cayetano, 3. Chiz Escudero, 4. Loren Legarda, 5. Isko Moreno, 6. Manny Pacquiao, 7. Ping Lacson, 8. Bongbong Marcos, and 9. Willie Revillame.
Since Isko, Manny, Ping and Bongbong are not expected to run for senators (they want to be the next president), Mark Villar, in effect, is No. 6 in the Top 12 choices of the people for senator for the May 2022 national elections.
Why Mark’s remarkable rise?
At the time of the September survey, he uncorked an expensive television and online advertisement to broadcast his achievements as DPWH secretary. The public became aware of his excellent work at DPWH. He is the “Mr. Build, Build, Build” of the administration. BBB is President Duterte’s most expensive program with a budget exceeding 5 percent of GDP yearly.
BBB is supposed to alleviate poverty, create jobs large scale, promote inclusion, and modernize the economy, leading to a comfortable life for all.
In the United States, President Biden will modernize the economy with a $1.2-trillion infra, part of his Build Back Better (BBB) vision.
In his first five years as DPWH chief, Villar had a spectacular track record. He created 6.5 million jobs and helped rescue from poverty 6 million Filipinos with the P3.7 trillion spent so far for infra. He built more roads, bridges, and schools than any other Filipino.
Such a narrative appeals to the hearts and minds of Filipinos. In 2016, “Tesdaman” Joel Villanueva claimed to have created 2 million jobs and he ended No. 2 in the senatorial race, with 18.4 million votes, just 148,000 shy of the topnotcher’s 18.6 million, Frank Drilon’s.
The litany of numbers denoting DPWH’s achievements under Villar is mind-boggling.
As of August 2021, the department had completed 29,264 kilometers (kms) of roads, with 15,134 kms still under construction; 5,950 bridges completed and 1,859 ongoing; 11,340 flood control projects completed and 4,155 ongoing; 150,000 school classrooms completed and 17,647 ongoing; and 222 evacuation centers completed and 105 ongoing.
In addition, Villar completed projects in support of tourism (2,436 kms completed), agricultural production and marketing (2,025 kms of farm to market roads and 95 kms of farm to milling facilities roads), industry and trade, 704 kms), and Katuparan linkages or Kalsada Tungo sa Paliparan, Riles at Daungan (443 kms of access roads completed).
Finally, there are 133 kms of security roads or TIKAS Program (Tatag ng Imprastraktura Para sa Kapayapaan at Seguridad).
Villar, 43, has a bachelor’s degree in economics, political science and philosophy from Wharton School of Finance, University of Pennsylvania. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He spent six years in Congress as a congressman of suburban Las Piñas City (2010-2016).
Before his foray into public service, Mark served as president of property up scale developer Crown Asia Corp. and managing director of publicly listed real estate holding company, Vista Land and Lifescapes, the Philippines’ biggest home developer.
Mark is proud of his work at DPWH. “What we have accomplished no administration ever accomplished in the past,” he says. “We have spent more than 5 percent of GDP on infra, the highest by any government. That never happened before.”
“Infrastructure has been neglected in the past. We need infra to develop as a country. You cannot modernize without infra. You cannot bring comfortable life to the people without infra. Comfortable life is what the Duterte administration promised to the people.”
“The job is tough, tougher than my previous stint in Congress,” says the secretary. “The President has told us to do many projects, all at the same time —roads, bridges, flood control, traffic,” he adds. “We just have to finish these things.”
“It’s a very fulfilling job. You are able to meet the needs of people in a big way,” says Mark. His one regret, he admits, “is I cannot spend more time with my daughter (Emma). I leave home with her still asleep. I come home with her already asleep.” Mark is married to Emmeline Aglipay Villar, a former party-list congressman and now an undersecretary of justice.
What inspires Mark to carry on despite the punishing work at DPWH is “my wife and my daughter,” he says. “I want to leave a better world for my daughter and the people,” he dreams. “Everything I do is the future.”
Also, he says, “When I grow old, my daughter would see the things her father did for the country. Nothing else could give anyone dad that pleasure.”
Mark never dreamed of public works, although when he was young, dad Manny, a CPA-MBA, often discussed building roads and highways.
“I just wanted to be a basketball player, a professional basketball player,” Mark recalls.
What convinced Mark to take on the public works job is he experienced or saw the daily toll on the people of grossly inadequate infrastructure – poor or absent roads, floods, traffic, rampant poverty. After work, he wanted to go home early to his family—but couldn’t.
If Mark continues to do well in the survey, he just might end up among the Top 3 senators in number of votes, right now dominated by heavy hitters newcomer Tulfo, and veterans Alan, Chiz and Loren.
That gives him the gravitas to run for a higher office in 2028.