President Duterte has raised the budget of infra-spending to 5.4% (of GDP), more than double the average of 2.6% in the past six administrations in the past 50 years.
Sec. Mark Villar’s assumption into office as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary was met with a little hesitation as many believed that his being the son of incumbent Sen. Cynthia Villar and real estate mogul (and former Presidential hopeful) Manuel Villar would pose a conflict of interest.
But since taking office, Sec. Mark Villar is bearing his family name with pride, and has become the firm hand behind the boldest and most ambitious infrastructure program in history.
TAKING UP THE CHALLENGE
When President Rodrigo Duterte laid out his 10-point socioeconomic agenda called “Dutertenomics,” many were impressed with his grand vision. It was an ambitious proposal, to say the least, and the Commander-in-Chief expressed his want to have all of these achieved during his term.
As part of his socioeconomic agenda, President Duterte aims to reduce poverty from 21.6% in 2015 to 13-15% by 2022. This would be achieved by driving reforms that would accelerate infrastructure and the development of industries that would yield robust growth across the archipelago.
Investing in key infrastructure projects would spur economic activity, welcoming foreign investments, creating jobs, and increasing incomes of Filipinos across the board.
This year alone, President Duterte has raised the budget of infra-spending to 5.4% (of GDP), more than double the average of 2.6% in the past six administrations in the past 50 years. His allotment of P8-9 trillion on big- ticket items such as railways and ports aims to “prime the pump” for progress. Sec. Villar is the man tasked with making sure that all of this is realized.
BUILDING FOUNDATIONS FOR PROGRESS
“Needless to say, we’ve been very busy, as we’ve been fast-tracking many of these projects. I’m excited because the projects that we’ll be starting this year are very large scale, and you’ll really feel the effects,” shares Sec. Villar, the former congressman representing the lone district of Las Piñas. (His wife, Rep. Emmeline Aglipay Villar, assumed the post as interim congressman when Sec. Villar joined the Cabinet of the President last Aug. 1, 2016).
“The work so far has been tough, but manageable. Whenever you have to lead an organization as massive as this—we’re talking tens of thousands of people— there will be management challenges,” he reveals. “But I never assumed that it would be an easy job. It’s been tough, but equally fulfilling, too.”
While others would feel a sense of restlessness—or even dread—when confronted with such an immense responsibility, Sec. Mark remains confident, firm, and focused, giving truth to his image as a man of action.
As the thousands of infrastructure projects roll out in the coming months, Sec. Villar attends to each, poring over the details, ensuring that these are planned and executed swiftly and with urgency. In addition to projects that aim to decongest traffic and address flood control, DPWH also has “convergence” projects, which adhere to tourism,
trade, and industry programs.
By next year, in terms of decongestion, according to Sec. Villar, DPWH will have built 128 bypass roads, doubling the number from last year. “Here in Manila, we’ve recently signed the NLEX-SLEX Connector Road. We’ve been fast-tracking existing projects, especially those that have been put on the back burner for the longest time.” When it comes to which projects to prioritize, Sec. Villar reveals, “The span of the project doesn’t matter. If it will take six months or six years, we will do it as long as it helps the people. Also, we make sure that it gets done, and it gets done quickly. We want people to see and feel the change sooner than later,” he adds. “No politics; no agenda. We just want to perform,” he says of his leadership.
Within Metro Manila, citizens are already seeing the improvement. NAIA X (extension) and Runway Manila, a pedestrian bridge connecting Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 and Newport City, were opened earlier this year. In addition, the Harbor Link Project, which started in 2014, is set to be completed this December. More exciting are the Central Luzon Link Express, Cavite-Laguna Expressway (Cala-X), the Luzon Spine Expressway Network, Tarlac-Pangasinan Union Express (TPLEX) and NLEX- SLEX Connector projects, which are all underway and will see completion by 2018-2021.
In addition to building more roads and highways, DPWH is also pushing forward the protection of the environment through partner projects such as the 12 Pasig River, Marikina River, and Manggahan Floodway Bridges, which are set to start construction in 2018.
Simultaneously, DPWH is kicking off high-impact projects in key cities and regions across the country. The Bacolod Economic Highway, for example, along with the Mindanao Development Road Network, Davao City By-Pass, and the Panguil Bay Bridge, connecting Tangub City, Misami Occidental, and Tubod, Lanao Del Norte aim to improve the ease of movement in and around the major cities.
The President has given me his full support and… that’s more than enough to accomplish what needs to be done.
One of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Cebu, the 74- km Metro Cebu Expressway, hopes to spur economic growth by cutting down travel time from Danao City to Naga City. From three hours, it will be halved to an hour and 30 minutes. Construction will also commence in 2018. There are many more in the pipeline, assures Sec. Villar and “these will effectively address the bottlenecks that hamper economic growth.”
Complementing the initiatives of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), DPWH has also taken on the billion-peso construction and renovation of airports, including Puerto Princesa Airport, which is now equipped to accommodate 1.9 million passengers annually (it opened May 2017); New Bohol Airport (completion June 2018); and the Mactan Cebu International Airport (June 2018), which can now accommodate 12 million passengers annually.
The P5-billion peso Bicol International Airport, scheduled to be finished by June 2018, will also significantly boost tourism arrival and decongest the crowded Legazpi airport, helping make Albay an economic powerhouse.
DPWH is also enhancing the night- landing capabilities of airports, which will enable carriers to accommodate flights after sunset. The night-rating will affect airports in Naga, Dumaguete, Dipolog, Cotabato, Tuguegarao, Cauayan, Pagadian, and Ozamiz. As of May 2017, 19 airports have been completed and nine more are set for completion.
DPWH, under the leadership of Sec. Villar, is off to a good start. “But regardless of the good that you do, there will always be criticism,” shares Sec. Villar. However, he is unperturbed by these as he understands that it’s all part of the democracy. “That’s just how it works. The critiques should drive you to do more and become better.”
There are those who may question Sec. Villar’s commitment as well as his capacity to lead such an enormous organization, but like a true statesman he takes it all in stride, allowing his work to speak for itself.
“The President has given me his full support and for that I’m very thankful. I think that’s more than enough to accomplish what needs to be done—to implement these projects, to eliminate corruption in the department, and to make sure that we are operating in a professional manner.
“As what I’ve learned from my parents, it’s not about what you say, but what you do. So for me, it doesn’t matter how people perceive me. What I accomplish by the end of my term will define that kind of leader I have always strived to be,” ends Sec. Mark Villar. – KRISTEL DACUMOS-LAGORZA