Sen. Cynthia Villar has just been reported as the richest government official with a reported net worth of Php3.81 billion. Sen. Villar’s net worth is by far the biggest among the Senate, House of Representatives, and Cabinet. The Villar family is one of the largest property developers in the country. Because of this, IBON points out, it is among the biggest beneficiaries of soaring land values from transport projects under the Duterte administration’s flagship Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure program.
Sen. Villar is the wife of the Philippines’ richest man – former senator Manny Villar who has a net worth of US$5.6 billion (about Php271 billion at current exchange rates). Similarly, their son Public Works Secretary Mark Villar has been reported as the second richest Cabinet member with a net worth of Php1.41 billion. The public works secretary’s personal wealth was even used by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque to argue that he is “above corruption”.
Corruption in public infrastructure projects is normally understood as referring to kickbacks or bribes from public works contractors. There are however also huge windfall profits to be made by well-placed real estate developers from public transport projects, IBON said.
The Department of Transport (DOTr) for instance has already pointed out how MRT-3 projects can cause residential and commercial land values within one kilometer of stations to increase four-fold, from Php3,700-6,300 per square meter to Php14,000-22,100 per square meter.
Likewise, real estate consultancy firm Colliers International Philippines sees residential land values around the planned Mega Manila Subway project’s stations rising by at least two-fold and commercial land values by at least three-fold from the start of construction to full operation of the subway. Another firm, Leechiu Property Consultants, meanwhile points out how real estate values around rail stations can even increase as much as thirteen-fold.
IBON noted that the Duterte administration’s BBB program has already increased public infrastructure spending nationwide from Php590.5 billion in 2016 to Php785.6 billion in 2019, increasing further to Php1,017.3 billion in 2021. Transport infrastructure projects include roads, bridges, rail, airports, sea ports and others. Out of the government’s 104 flagship infrastructure projects worth Php4.1 trillion, 70 are transport projects cumulatively accounting for Php3.7 trillion or 91% of the total value of projects.
IBON says that the huge windfall wealth for the country’s real estate developers including the Villar family is likely among the reasons for the Duterte administration’s stubborn insistence on its transport-heavy BBB program despite emerging pandemic-related needs for cash assistance, health systems development, and enterprise support.
The systematic use of public funds to support private oligarch wealth is among the reasons for 12 Philippine real estate developers to be counted among Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list, IBON noted. This raises huge conflict of interest issues around the Villar family’s direct involvement in government, IBON stressed, specifically in the Senate and Cabinet public works portfolio.
The dominance of real estate and related interests in the economy and their influence on economic policymaking also goes far in explaining the bias against developing domestic agriculture and Filipino industry, IBON said. ###