Senate surprise: Joel Villanueva
If the elections were held two years ago, senatorial candidate Joel Villanueva may not have made it.
“I was ranked within the 35-to-45 slot. In January, I was ranked 17, and my distance to the 12th spot was 9 percent (of survey respondents),” Villanueva told the Inquirer on Tuesday.
Today, Villanueva, former Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) director general, a name often mentioned in President Aquino’s State of the Nation Addresses, is among those at the top of the winning roster of 12, only slightly sliding to second place after initially taking the lead away from incumbent Senate President Franklin Drilon.
The 40-year-old junior politician from Bulacan credits his victory to a combination of good timing, diligent campaigning, and the steady backing of his family and supporters.
“This was a come-from-behind-race. We started low and slow, but our hopes to be in the top 12 were high. But being among the top finishers—No. 2 currently—is overwhelming,” said Villanueva.
His victory came true despite being among former lawmakers tagged in the P10-billion pork barrel scam, charges he has many times denied.
In August last year, he was included among those charged with malversation, bribery and graft for allegedly diverting Priority Development Assistance Funds to bogus non-governmental organizations created by the now jailed alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
The former three-term sectoral representative for CIBAC (Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption) Party-list group said he had wanted to try his luck in the upper chamber in 2013. But he did not make the Liberal Party lineup and President Aquino’s request that he stay put at Tesda to expand the agency’s vocational training and jobs generation programs.
“I was about to tender my resignation, but he [the President] asked me to stay,” Villanueva said.
There are no regrets for the so-called “Tesda-man.”
He waited for the 2016 election. In October he quit Tesda and began his campaign.
“For 90 days, I had 21 to 24 radio interviews every day. Whether it be AM or FM, I gave interviews. So by 11 a.m., it was as if I’d already gone through the entire country,” said Villanueva, whose public speaking mettle was honed in his role as a leader of the Jesus Is Lord Movement, a Christian sect founded by his father, Eduardo “Bro. Eddie” Villanueva.
His father, a millionaire radio-TV evangelist, twice ran for President but lost in 2004 and 2010; he also failed to win a senate seat in 2013.
The young Villanueva said he would give priority to measures concerning education and jobs, sectors familiar to him having been Tesda chief.
He also aims to pass legislation that will introduce critical budgetary reforms to empower barangays through an annual allocation from the national government.
Asked how he sees himself as a senator under the administration of the likely winner for President, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Villanueva said he has his “concerns” but is raring to see how the apparent President-elect would concretize his platform of governance.
“After the divisive political contest, the next imperative is healing and working together. We are elected to work to give the people better lives. We pledge our full support to our new President, and in the same way, expect that he will be a listening and working President,” Villanueva said.
His sister, Joni, also won the mayoralty race in Bocaue, Bulacan, winning only after a coin toss that broke a tie with rival Jim Valerio. They both had 16,694 votes even after a manual recount.
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