Manila: Manuel “Manny” Bamba Villar Jr., a former fish-monger raised in Manila’s slums, has just topped the Philippines’ billionaires list with a net worth of $8.3 billion, according to Forbes.
Villar Jr., 72, currently chairs the Villar Group, a conglomerate involved in property development, retail and mining. Villar was born to a middle class family in Tondo, an impoverished and densely-populated district of Manila.
Villar came from rather humble beginnings. He was born on December 13, 1949 in Moriones, Tondo, Manila, and is the second child in a brood of nine.
As a boy growing up in Tondo, he was a fixture in Manila's popular wholesale market. Tondo is a sea-side slum on the western edge of Manila, fronting the bay.
His father, Manuel Montalban Villar, Sr., originally came from Iloilo (in central Philippines), who worked as an ordinary government employee. His mother Curita, who originally came from Pampanga and Bataan, was a seafood vendor.
At a tender age, Villar was already helping his mother sell shrimps and fish in Manila’s crowded Divisoria public market. Armed with a burning desire to improve his family’s lot, Villar worked hard at the fish market in between classes.
His rise to the pinnacle of wealth is a fascinating story of grit.
Tondo, the subject of numerous Filipino movies, is known for being one of the poorest and most crime-ridden and underdeveloped areas of the country.
It is the birthplace of Philippine national hero Andres Bonifacio and former president Joseph Estrada, and it is also the location of the notorious but-now-closed landfill, the so-called “Smokey Mountain”.
Manny met his wife Cynthia Aguilar-Villar during their university years, while she was also earning her degree in Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
She started her career as a financial analyst, before becoming college professor until she married Manny. Cynthia supported her husband in various entrepreneurial ventures that eventually led to making Vista Land the biggest homebuilder in the Philippines. Cynthia is currently one of the 24 members of the Philippine Senate.
As a businessman, Villar is quite pragmatic. Today, housing and construction businesses — from which the Villar's vast and multi-billion-dollar current wealth came from — remains their favourite. But they have also set sights on retail.
Villar is also the chairman of Starmalls, one of Philippines largest mall operators, and Vista & Landscapes, the country's largest homebuilder.
In 2019, Villar stood at No. 2, with $6.5 billion estimated net worth. This time, the property tycoon is net worth has climbed to $8.3 billion.
Villar rose from builder to politician and became president of the Philippine Senate. Villar's companies have built over 200,000 homes, with a business career spanning more than 50 years.
He ran for president in the 2010 presidential elections under the Nacionalista Party, but lost to Benigno Aquino III.
Villar completed his high school from the Mapúa Institute of Technology in Santa Cruz, near Tondo. He attended the University of the Philippines Diliman and earned his bachelor's degree in business administration in 1970.
After completing his business degree, Villar began his professional career working as an accountant for Sycip, Gorres, Velayo (SGV) & Co.
In 1975, with an initial capital of Php10,000 (about $1,422 at $1=Php7.030 exchange rate in 1975), Villar purchased a reconditioned truck and started a business delivering gravel and sand for construction companies in Las Piñas. Photo shows the Villars posing next to their restored truck (above), and a Camella mid-range housing project in Bulacan, north of Manila.
Given his current estimated net worth, Villar is Forbes’ 263rd richest person in the Asian country this year, jumping 89 places from 352nd on Forbes’ list in 2021, with a net worth of $7.2 billion then.
Following are the Forbes rank of the Philippines’ 20 billionaires and their net worth:
No. 263 Manny Villar ($8.3 billion)
No. 369 Enrique Razon ($6.7 billion)
No. 1096 Henry Sy Jr ($2.8 billion)
No. 1096 Andrew Tan ($2.8 billion)
No. 1196 Hans Sy ($2.6 billion)
No. 1196 Herbert Sy ($2.6 billion)
No. 1292 Harley Sy ($2.4 billion)
No. 1292 Teresita Sy-Coson ($2.4 billion)
No. 1445 Elizabeth Sy ($2.1 billion)
No. 1513 Ramon Ang ($2 billion)
No. 1818 Lance Gokongwei ($1.6 billion)
No. 2190 Tony Tan Caktiong ($1.3 billion)
No. 2324 Betty Ang ($1.2 billion)
No. 2324 Lucio Tan ($1.2 billion)
No. 2324 Maria Grace Uy ($1.2 billion)
No. 2578 Nari Genomal ($1 billion)
No. 2578 Ramesh Genomal ($1 billion)
No. 2578 Sunder Genomal ($1 billion)
No. 2578 Roberto Ongpin ($1 billion)
No. 2578 Dennis Anthony Uy ($1 billion)