(In celebration of Women’s Month, Manila Bulletin is publishing stories featuring women who have made outstanding contributions to the country or to their communities.)
Public servant, entrepreneur, philanthropist, wife, and mother—these are just some of the many roles of Senator Cynthia A. Villar that she manages every day. And she enjoys it.
Senator Cynthia said that working is a habit she developed since childhood. “I’m not happy when I’m not working,” she quipped.
She said it’s a trait she got from her mother, who taught her the value of education, hard work and thriftiness.
Senator Cynthia earned her degree in Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines and completed her Master’s in Business Administration at the New York University. She became a financial analyst and a college professor.
Destined for public service
Although she was born to a political family, Senator Cynthia did not see herself becoming a politician.
She was only 13 years old when her father, Dr. Filemon Aguilar, first became mayor of Las Piñas City. Prior to that, Dr. Aguilar was a local health officer and a barrio doctor, always working along the line of public service.
When she married former House Speaker and Senate President Manny Villar, they ventured into entrepreneurship, which led to making Vista Land the biggest homebuilder in the Philippines. She also managed a private development bank from 1989 to 1998.
But public service kept calling. In 2001, she ran and won as Representative of Las Piñas. She completed three terms before running for the Senate in 2013. In 2019, she was elected for a second term and emerged as number one senator with 25,283,727 votes.
As Congresswoman and Senator, she has authored and sponsored numerous laws on varied issues, including on women, children and family.
Senator Cynthia also serves the people through the Villar Foundation (now Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance or Villar (SIPAG), a non-stock, non-profit organization which she founded in 1995. Its programs are aimed at improving the quality of life of the people through entrepreneurship and livelihood, health and social services, culture and arts, education and urban greening, among others. Their beneficiaries include the poor and the underprivileged, overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and their families, the youth, and women.
The foundation has provided agricultural trainings in its four farm schools located in Las Piñas/Bacoor; San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; San Miguel, Iloilo; and Buhangin, Davao City. In partnership with government agencies and a private foundation, these farm schools offer free courses, making farmers and fisherfolk competitive and profitable with the help of modern technology.
She has also promoted the establishment of farm schools nationwide which has increased to 2,800. These serve as learning sites for farmers and enthusiasts who are given the opportunity to train on the ways of modern farming with the support of the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Villar SIPAG and the senator have been advocating urban farming or vegetable gardening since 2015. Amid the pandemic, she initiated the distribution of vegetable seeds and organic fertilizers all over the country. The goal is to provide a solution to hunger, for families to have easy access to nutritious food, provide livelihood, solve poverty-linked hunger and malnutrition and ensure food security.
Senator Cynthia also empowers those who are capable of helping others. Yearly, Villar SIPAG awards 20 outstanding community enterprises that have contributed to the growth and prosperity of their communities through the Villar SIPAG Awards on Poverty Reduction.
The foundation has the Villar SIPAG – Youth Poverty Reduction Challenge Award, which is a friendly competition among young people engaged in social enterprises that help alleviate poverty in their respective communities. Ten winners are selected yearly.
Caring for the environment
Senator Cynthia is also a champion of the environment, legislating numerous laws on environmental protection and conservation, including the Las Piñas-Paranaque Wetland Park as a protected area.
Villar SIPAG has also spearheaded various programs for the environment, which also have livelihood components.
On Dec. 13, 2002, she launched the Sagip Ilog project to bring life back into the rivers of Las Piñas. These started the adoption of a city-wide solid waste management practice and the creation of green social enterprises that gave jobs to families in the community. She has institutionalized composting or production of organic fertilizer from kitchen and garden wastes.
She promoted the planting of bamboo along the riverbanks and open spaces to assure a steady supply of raw materials to the parol makers of the city. She also built an engineered bamboo factory in Las Piñas. With the use of a decorticating machine, the foundation now produces coco nets and coco peat from coconut husks for slope protection and for potting medium to enrich soil. The program won for the foundation the “Water for Life” UN-Water Best Practices Award in 2011.
Villar SIPAG also has a plastic recycling facility in in Las Piñas, in San Miguel, Iloilo, and in Cagayan de Oro City, in Misamis Oriental—that produces school chairs given for free to public schools and farm schools nationwide.
The hardworking senator never tires of working. In fact, she was able to pass it on to her children, who are all well-educated and successful in their respective fields: Paolo is the chief executive officer of Vista Land; Mark was the Secretary of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and is one of the frontrunners in the 2022 senatorial race; and Congresswoman Camille is currently the Representative of the Lone District of Las Piñas.