Senator Cynthia Aguilar Villar: The Compleat Social Entrepreneur

  • Written by Women's Journal
  • Published in Women's Journal
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No family in modern Las Piñas could ever be identified with the city’s transformation other than the Villars. Specifically Senator Cynthia Aguilar Villar, the empowered woman and public servant who is virtually the prime custodian of Las Piñas history, culture and socio-political wealth. Credit it to her political will.

Cynthia Aguilar Villar earned her degree in Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines, which recently recognized her as one of its Distinguished Alumni. She completed her Masters in Business Administration at the New York University.

She practiced as a financial analyst and college professor until she married Former House Speaker and Senate President Manny Villar in 1975.  She then helped her husband in various entrepreneurial ventures, eventually making Vista Land the biggest homebuilder in the Philippines. She managed a private development bank from 1989 to 1998.

In 2001, Cynthia Villar won in a landslide victory as Representative of Las Piñas to the Philippine’s House of Representatives, where she completed three terms or nine years of service until 2010.

Congresswoman Villar also served as chairperson of the Congressional Spouses Foundation from 1998 to 2000. During her term, she built 11 regional centers for women who are victims of abuse.

Likewise, she also served as president of the Senate Spouses Foundation, Inc., from August 2006 to December 2008, during which the Foundation raised P25 million for the rehabilitation of charity wards at the Philippine General Hospital.

Cynthia Villar’s social and civic concerns are wide and varied.  Thus, in 1992, she founded and chaired the Villar SIPAG, where she is now actively involved as Managing Director.

Amidst all her achievements and awards, she still considers her family her most cherished treasures and her three well-raised children as her glory. Paolo and Mark are graduates of the Wharton School of Finance—University of Pennsylvania. Her only daughter, Camille, finished her Masters in Business Administration at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain . Paolo is the Chief Executive Officer of their publicly–listed housing company Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc. Camille is Executive Vice President of Starmall and President of AllHome. Mark is the Secretary of the Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH). They are all role models of hard work and perseverance—life values that their parents inculcated in them.

Presently, Senator Villar has become an author, coming full circle in communicating her highly evolved consciousness to all and sundry. Writing in a stream-of-consciousness style, she writes (with Yvette Fernandez and illustrator Paul Eric Roca) “River of Life.” That it is about the life of the river and of the city of her birth, it is therefore also a visionary look at her community’s history.    

Here, her full story which “all begins with the River”:    

It all began with the river.

When I was a little girl, I liked listening to my father tell stories about when children his age would swim in the clean and clear Las Piñas River. Many fish still lived in the river at that time.

To me, a big part of my childhood was seeing little piles of salt dotting my hometown. Las Piñas was known for producing very good salt. Las Pinas was also known for making colorful paper parol at Christmas. We were also famous for our Bamboo Organ.

But over the years, things changed.

More roads were built through Las Piñas, which meant more cars passing through.

That meant more people, more pollution, and garbage being thrown into our lovely river.

The clean and clear Las Piñas River became dirty and murky. That meant less and less fish could live there. Soon there were almost none left.

Cities elsewhere also made colorful parol at Christmas. They used capiz shells and electronic lights, sometimes even music. That meant less people went to Las Piñas for our parol. So less people started making them.

Thankfully, our city is still famous for our Bamboo Organ. Many people still come from all over the world to visit it.

We are very proud of our Bamboo Organ.

We are very proud of our city of Las Piñas.

But I want us to be even prouder.

And so I went back to where it all began.

I began with the river.

We discovered that the river was filled with all sorts of gunk and junk. So many plastic bags and bottles and cans that people had thrown into the river. Piles and piles of them. It was one big stinking mess. All that garbage had clogged up the river and prevented the water from flowing freely, making the water stale and smelly. It had become a breeding ground for dengue-carrying mosquitoes and disease-ridden flies. It was a dark poisonous cesspool.

When the rains came, things got much worse. The filthy water had nowhere to go but up. And so the river rose higher and higher til it overflowed and flooded our salt beds, our streets, even our homes.

And so we started pulling out all the garbage, all the plastic bags and bottles and metal that had clogged the river for so many years. It took a long time since there was so much trash.

But eventually, we were able to remove a lot of the garbage that had been clogging up the river, and the water began moving faster again. Cleaner water was able to flow to Manila Bay, refreshing the waterways.

We also made the people of Las Piñas aware of what we were doing. What good would cleaning up the garbage do if people kept throwing more back in?

We moved people who lived by the river and relocated them to much better communities where they would have the opportunity to own their houses.

We also found out that coconut husks and water hyacinths, which are really aquatic pests, were also clogging the river.

We discovered that when these hyacinths were removed form the river and dried properly, their stalks could be used to weave into lovely mats, bags and baskets. Their leaves could be ground to pulp and rolled into beautiful handmade paper. Leftover stalks and leaves could also be crushed and made into liquid fertilizer.

Meanwhile, the fiber from coconut husks was found to be very strong and durable and could be woven into coco nets that could be used to prevent soil erosion. And the coco peat could be made into briquettes of smokeless charcoal that could be used for cooking.

We taught the people of Las Piñas to create these useful products that they could sell to other people. And so the river gave back again and gave people livelihood.

The people also reward the people who brought it back to life with recognition. In 2011, we won the award for the United Nations Water for Life Best Water Management Practices. We traveled top Spain to accept the honor.

We educated the people to use the garbage from their own kitchens and gardens and put them to good use. We set up composting facilities in their communities where they could compost their wastes. Fruit peels, fish bones, leftover rice and other garden wastes were brought to rotary and vermin-composting facilities. With the help of worms called nightcrawlers, kitchen and garden wastes become nutrient-rich organic fertilizers that could make plants and crops grow healthier and make the soil better, too.

Piles of waste plastics, those that could be recycled, also clogged up the river. We collected those and brought them to our factory that converted them into school chairs, which we distributed and donated to public schools all over our country.

Another way to turn garbage into livelihood.

And the river gave back some more.

It made fertile the soil on its banks that could be planted with citronella to make massage oils, and insect repellents to keep the mosquitoes away.

On the river banks, we also built a farm school where people could get training on how to plant vegetables and fruits, how to start fish farms, and how to raise livestock.

People could also plant trees of bamboo that they could use to make the beautiful bamboo Christmas parols  Las Piñas had been known for. Full Circle.

So the river is cleaner and cleaner again. It is alive and it gives back to the people who are keeping it alive.

It has become a passageway linking towns to one another. It has attracted visitors to come and visit Las Piñas to see what a thriving city it is.

People can now take a boat and take a river cruise to enjoy the beauty, the history.

The river is alive and is a source of pride and happiness for the people of Las Piñas.

Let us all do our part in keeping it clean and living and thriving so that it will continue to give back to our people and to our lovely city that is Las Piñas.

It all begins with the river.