President Rodrigo Duterte was all praises for an unexpected member of his delegation to Thailand: real estate tycoon and former Senate president Manny Villar.
During his event with Thailand's Filipino community on Wednesday, March 22, Duterte even went so far as to say he would "die" for Villar.
"Para sa akin, puwede ako magpakamatay sa kanya. Kasi mabait eh," said Duterte, to cheers of the over 2,000 Filipinos present.
Villar, on the front row of the venue, could do nothing more than smile bashfully as he stood up to acknowledge the large crowd.
Duterte described Villar as one of the nicest people he has met.
"Isa sa pinakamabait, pinakamabait na tao. Hindi marunong magmura 'yan. Naging speaker namin 'yan. Ni minsan, 'di ko nakikita – naging congressman ako panahon speaker siya, wala akong narinig na mag-init 'yung ulo," said the President.
(He's one of the nicest of people. He doesn't know how to curse. He was our House Speaker. Not once did I see – I was congressman then – did I hear about him losing his cool.)
He regaled his audience, which included other Cabinet officials, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Vicente Sotto III, with a story about an embarrassing incident he had with Villar.
Back when he was congressman, he and Villar were supposedly seated beside each other on a plane ride back to the Philippines, from Saudi Arabia.
Because of the long flight and discomfort of airplane seats, he and Villar often changed sleeping positions.
"Long flight so ano-ano na lang ang posisyon namin. Ganoon-ganoon.…Minsan nagkaharap kami, 'di namin alam....Napa-atsing ako. 'Atse!'" recalled Duterte, a masterful impersonator.
(It was a long flight so we were in all kinds of sleeping positions. Like this, like that....At one point, we were face to face, we didn't know. I sneezed. Achoo!)
He said he sneezed on Villar's face.
"Alam mo naman 'yung laway ko, dala-dala ko doon sa airport. Gumanoon si Speaker. Tumalikod siya. Sabi ko, 'Sorry, Sir,'" continued Duterte.
(You know my saliva, I had brought it with me to the airport. Speaker Villar turned his face. He turned his back to me. I said, 'Sorry, Sir.')
Villar and Duterte have struck an unexpected alliance, which officially began when Villar pledged the support of his party, Nacionalista Party, to Duterte's political party, PDP-Laban.
Duterte appointed Villar's son Mark as public works secretary despite blatant conflict of interest. The Villar family owns real estate company Vista Land.
Manny Villar and his wife, Senator Cynthia Villar, are also often invited to Malacañang events.
Among those who helped finance Duterte's presidential bid is Marcelino Mendoza, listed as incorporator, board member, and stockholder of Vista Land & Lifescapes, Incorporated, according to a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism report.
He donated P14.5 million to Duterte's campaign. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.