Last time I called out certain transportation agencies for missing their cues on service issues important to the riding public, e.g. renewing license plates and driver’s licenses, keeping transport vehicle networks  like Uber and Grab on the streets for riders’ benefit while they thresh out their issues with the TVN operators.

Nonetheless, I also cited DOTr Secretary Art Tugade for his “obvious sincerity and take-charge manner,” and I would like to think that it was he who decided to come down on the side of commuters when the TVNs were finally allowed, for the meantime, to continue operation.

Tugade’s competence and sincerity are immensely important to the public, because it is his Cabinet department that ultimately bears the brunt of the infrastructure ambitions that underlie the Build Build Build philosophy of Dutertenomics.

Unlike DPWH whose portfolio almost exclusively comprises the cement and steel of civil works—roads, bridges, flood control embankments—the DOTr portfolio manages more complicated transport systems with lots of moving parts: Land vehicles, airports and planes, seaports and ships, railways and trains, subways (soon to come), and all the variants thereof.

And unlike DPWH head Mark Villar, a quiet-mannered, US-educated billionaire’s son, DOTr’s Tugade, a lawyer and self-made billionaire, is a voluble man who can talk up a storm. Put them beside each other behind microphones, and the contrast couldn’t be more striking.

* * *

But Tugade’s flamboyance may disguise a fundamental can-do philosophy learned over a lifetime, which now seems to be jelling into his new responsibilities a year after he started climbing the learning curve.

Today he leads the first batch of DOTr employees who will be transferring from their rented offices on Ortigas Avenue in QC, all the way to Clark Freeport, at a newly refurbished building also to be rented. The transfer of all 750 employees is expected to be completed by year-end.

But why even bother to move so far away, thereby subjecting employees to additional commuting inconvenience about which some of them have in fact already begun muttering?

Being the first national agency to set up shop in Clark, the stated reason is for DOTr to take the lead in building up a new national government center in Clark, as well as in decongesting Metro Manila, a favorite item on Presidential 10-point agendas including the current one.

But Tugade’s unstated reason is just as important: To show everyone that he puts his money where his mouth is. It’s a ballsy message intended to inspire public confidence in his ability to deliver on far more difficult promises: from completing the abortive Northrail project, through converting Clark airport into the country’s second premier international gateway, and even to building our first subway system.

Amid all this excitement over new projects, here’s a piece of unsolicited advice: Let’s try to keep the employees happy about this move. The department reportedly already suffers from a deficit of engineers and other technical people, a legacy from the unlamented likes of Roxas and Abaya under PNoy; it doesn’t need to lose more of them.

If it will take almost under the end of Duterte’s term (by DOTr’s own projections) to complete the Manila-to-Clark railway link that used to be called Northrail, it may be worth it to try and devise an interim solution to make life easier for employees commuting to and from Manila.

* * *

Not to be outdone on can-do, Angeles City mayor Ed Pamintuan has also rolled out a package of 14 road and bridge projects intended to help his city cope with the heavier traffic expected there after the completion of the Manila-Clark railway link and expansion of Clark airport.

Pamintuan was coincidentally the last chairman of Northrail during the term of former President Arroyo. But despite what must have been a frustrating experience for him there, he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for the ability of such ambitious infra projects to spur the growth of his city and the rest of the surrounding Central Luzon region (one which, post-Federalism, may become the second most advanced new “state” after Metro Manila).

Pamintuan’s projects are very much meat-and-potatoes: a new link between NLEX and SCTEX to be called the Abacan expressway; new circumferential and bypass roads; more tollway exits, interchanges, and flyovers; bridges; even dikes and watershed improvements to further stanch chronic flooding around the city.

These projects will be proposed to DPWH’s Villar, who’s busy with his own infrastructure portfolio. Let’s hope that the mayor can be accommodated, for the sake of his millions of cabalens here and abroad.

* * *

All this talk about infrastructure and engineers reminds me to congratulate Dr. Rey Vea, a former neighbor and elementary schoolmate, comrade and fellow political detainee, and co-employee at the iconic Howard Johnson’s Inn on the Charles River in Boston midway between our respective schools at Harvard and MIT.

Under President Vea’s leadership, the former Mapua Institute of Technology was recently granted university status by CHED. Mapua also received a three-star overall rating from London’s Quacquerelli Symonds, with five stars each for employability of graduates (good news for alumni!), facilities, and social responsibility; and four stars for inclusiveness and teaching.

Among the areas that still need more work: research, internationalization, and others. But I’ve no doubt that these are also well within Rey’s reach, and soon. The Yuchengco family is lucky to have him as one of their senior executives.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Gary Olivar , Can-do , DOTr Secretary Art Tugade , Department of Transportation , DPWH head Mark Villar
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