At 72 years old, no one would blame Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade if he took it a little bit easier. Maybe spend time at the beach, enjoy afternoons off with his grandkids, steak dinners out with his wife. Yet here he still is, decades after many of his contemporaries have called it quits, slugging it out with and besting guys half his age.
But the truth is even when he was much younger, Tugade had always put a premium on hard work and pragmatism. And having come from extremely humble beginnings, it wasn’t like life gave him a whole lot of other choices. “Kung uunahin ko ang inggit dahil meron sila at ako’y wala, eh wala din mangyayari sa akin,” says Tugade.
“Kapag meron kang gustong marating sa buhay mo, dapat magsumikap ka. Kung wala kang pera pang bili ng libro, manghiram ka, pumunta ka sa library, gawan mo ng paraan.”
His spartan approach towards life and all the challenges it offers has served Sec. Art exceedingly well in both his previous career in the private sector, and in dealing with the myriad issues that face the DOTr everyday.
When something comes up he isn’t one to pass the buck. Tugade deals with issues head on. With a minimum of fuss, an abundance of political will, and constant application of old school common sense. All of which are known to be in much demand, but in scant supply in the halls of the bureaucracy.
Whether he’s undertaking the long-delayed relocation of the DOTr main office to Clark, energizing the Philippines’ moribund transportation infrastructure, or tangling with obstructionist public utilities operators, Tugade approaches each task with the same determination, and no-nonsense, zero tolerance-for-bullshit that delights his admirers. And infuriates his critics.
So it’s a good thing that Art Tugade does not work for praise. Or that he isn’t dissuaded by criticism. He goes about his job with a workmanlike attitude that mirrors that of his good friend and classmate, Rodrigo Duterte. The same guy who gave him this Herculean task to begin with.
They share a bond beyond their common alma mater. They are men cut from the same cloth. Rough around the edges, occasionally (ok, make that frequently) vulgar, fiercely patriotic, dedicated to serving the Filipino people, and – at seventy-some years old – set in their ways like a couple of tough, old trees. Gnarled, yet beautiful in a homey, familiar kind of way.
As a close friend of Duterte, Tugade has also had to face the added pressure of always being in the crosshairs of the President’s critics. Issues real, imagined, and invented are the stock-in-trade of those who want to bring him (and the President) down.
Since taking office, it has almost become a cliche to blame him (and through him Duterte) every time people stuck in traffic, or when the MRT breaks down, or when there is a road accident – even when many of the factors affecting these issues are actually not within his purview.
But being the trooper that he is, he just plows on. Even though he does admit to occasionally hoping that people would realize that they are doing everything they can to get the government’s house in order as quickly as possible. “Ok lang naman kung pupunahin kami kapag mali ang aming ginagawa. Pero kung tama, may konting himas din.”
As if the constant nitpicking wasn’t enough, it also doesn’t help that many of the problems that he has to deal with have been around for decades. Inherited from previous secretaries who passed it on like a bad chain letter. People like Jun Abaya, or Mar Roxas before him who either lacked the intellectual capacity to find the right solutions. Or if they did, didn’t have the cojones to implement it in the face of the inevitable political push back from people who had a vested interests in the status quo.
Yet despite all these challenges, when he was called upon to do the job, Sec. Art never hesitated. Much like he has done throughout all his life, it was just another thing that needed doing, and he was the man to do it.
And so Sec. Art Tugade marches on. The grizzled veteran of many battles ready to take on many more for the sake of his friend, and in service to the country.