SEN. Cynthia Villar said she has no plans to join the Cabinet of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., particularly as secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), when her term ends in 2025.
Guesting in the “Business and Politics” program on SMNI, Villar told the program host, The Manila Times Chairman and CEO Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd, she has not decided on her next move after her consecutive terms in the Senate.
“I never thought of that. I always prefer an elective position because that is given by the people. We have more freedom compared to a Cabinet position. I don’t know, it depends on how I feel in 2025,” she said.
One thing, however, is definite for Villar: “I will have to continue my work, and then at the same time, I have to continue my work as a private citizen with regards to agriculture.”
She also said her husband, former Senate president Manny Villar, has no intention to return to politics.
“Manny is really bent on continuing his business and I think Manny is doing the business not for the money. He wants to prove to people that even if you are poor, you have the education, you have the right attitude, you will be successful in life. It’s the only thing he is proving because after all the success that God has given him, he remains a very simple man. I am amazed how simple he is despite the things he has done,” the senator said.
She said she will focus on the passage of her remaining priority bills during her last two years as senator.
“Since I am a legislator, I tried to solve the problems of agriculture, through legislation,” Villar said.
Among her proposed legislation is the Livestock, Poultry and Dairy Bill.
She said the measure was primarily meant to help livestock farmers still struggling from African swine fever.
She also proposed the Corn Development Law.
Corn “is the feed of the livestock. So, I’ll pass them together and of course, I still have to pass many legislated protected areas because there are still many in the Philippines,” Villar said.
According to the senator, more fish hatcheries should also be established in traditional fishing areas.
“I passed 41 [bills] and we are passing more before I leave my position, so these are the things that I have to do,” she said.
The senator considers as among her legacies the Las Piñas-Zapote River Drive.
The project solved two problems in Las Piñas — traffic jams and flooding.
Villar said 15,000 cars pass through the river drive daily.
Another legacy was the establishment of farm schools nationwide.
“There are already 2,800 farm schools all over the Philippines, except there are only 800 accredited with Tesda (Technological Education Skills and Development Authority),” she said.
The Villar family owns a 140-hectare farming school in Bacoor, Cavite.
The school “is actually owned by our company, our personal company, but I requested [former] Senator Villar not to develop this anymore and instead during our lifetime turn it into a farm school and maybe to a tourism farm school later on,” she said.
Villar said she worked for the passage of Farm Tourism Law after picking up the idea during her trip to France in 2014.
“I was invited by the association of farm schools in France in 2014, and I was surprised why France, which is a first world country, has thousands of farm schools, while the Philippines, an agricultural country, does not have a farm school. So when I got back, I wrote that law providing farm tourism and establishment of learning sites in farm tourism sites,” she said.
She also considers the passage of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund and Coconut Farmers Industry Development Fund as two of her key accomplishments.
She said the country has 2.5 million rice farmers and 2.5 million coconut growers “and between the two of them, that’s almost one half of all the farmers in the Philippines.”
Villar said she will leave it up to her son, Sen. Mark Villar, to ensure continuity of her programs, particularly her support for the agriculture sector.
She encouraged farmers to organize into cooperatives. “We can only achieve economies of scale by establishing cooperatives so that people can work together without sacrificing the ownership of lands by small farmers,” she said.
The senator said every year the family-run Villar Foundation awards prizes to young people in cooperatives who help reduce poverty.
Villar said agriculture is dear to her heart because her grandmother was a farmer.
“My grandmother used to plant ikmo (betel leaf), and that has been her livelihood all her lifetime, from age 16 to 80. She was able to send my father to school. My father was a graduate of the University of the Philippines, (former Las Pinas) Mayor Filemon (Aguilar), and became mayor and congressman of our town for 27 years.”
She said her grandmother sold the ikmo in Divisoria, “and I realized the importance of the value chain. She plants in Las Piñas during the day and at 12 midnight, she rides a bus to bring her products and sell them in the sidewalks of Divisoria from midnight till morning.”
Villar added that her mother, Lydia Ampaya, managed a poultry farm in Muntinlupa City, and a rice mill in Las Piñas.
“I lived on the farm during my childhood so I’m exposed to agriculture. At the same time, Manny was born in Tondo [to a poor family], so we thought poverty reduction should be our advocacy in our Villar Foundation.”