I recently had the opportunity to visit the new head office of the Department of Transportation in Clark, Pampanga, and I must say that I am impressed with the vision of Sec. Art Tugade.
Nestled among the huge acacia trees in the middle of the sprawling grounds of this former United States air force base are a cluster of modern buildings that looked more like the office of some start-up tech company instead some government bureaucracy.
It was a refreshing change from the usual soulless architecture that one finds when visiting government offices. Instead of straight lines and massive cement facades, the DOTr offices were full of curves, glass walls, and a feeling of freedom and out-of-the-box thinking.
Which is not really surprising considering that it is being led by one of the most unorthodox government official I have ever met. In fact, next to President Duterte himself, Art Tugade may be the most unconventional thinker in the present administration.
Just take this move for example. It hasn’t exactly made him the most popular man in his department. Some employees have even threatened to resign in protest. And even those who support it, have to do so at great personal and professional sacrifice.
And yet, Sec. Art is unfazed by the criticism. And unbowed in his determination to do what is right for the public.
In our conversations during our visit, he was talking a lot about sacrifices. About how people in government must be willing to make sacrifices for the country. “When we sing the national anthem we say ang mamamatay ng dahil sa yo. But we cannot even make this small sacrifice for the good of the public,” he says.
But frankly speaking – and this is probably just the probinsyano in me – I don’t see what sacrifice he was referring to.
Moving to Clark from the hell hole that is Metro Manila is a no-brainer. The employees of the DOTr should be buying their boss drinks for having the balls to make this move. Instead of griping about how difficult it would be, they should instead join this 70-some year old man in seeing the possibilities of Clark.
Ok true, there will be adjustments that need to be made. But none that are harder than the compromises people are forced to make every fucking day just to survive in the metropolis.
Traffic, crime, pollution, a ridiculously high cost of living – these are just some of the things you can say goodbye to once you move to Clark (or any of the cities outside Metro Manila). Heck, the travel time from Quezon City to Clark is even shorter than the drive from Novaliches to their former office in Ortigas. And I asked around about housing and it turns out that buying a house in Angeles is cheaper than renting a place in Makati.
And not to sound like a tourism plug for Pampanga, but there is so much more to do there than just hang out in malls and eat at some over-priced restaurant. You can hike, visit to a museum, go to a 4-D theater, watch those crazy-colored air balloons, eat authentic Kapangpangan food, enjoy the fresh air, and spend more quality time with your family. Things that are harder and harder to do in the big cities.
But more than the sum of these benefits, what really impressed me most about the move is Tugade’s steadfastness in implementing it. Unlike the other namby-pamby government officials Filipinos have been used to throughout the years, this guy does not take no for an answer. He knows how to get the job done, and quickly.
Which is another reason why I trust that he is doing the right thing. Because if he – for the sake of argument – does make a mistake, I know he won’t run from it like his predecessor did. Nor will he hide behind the President.
Tugade does not strike me as being in any way similar to that idiot Jun Abaya, whose legacy of incompetence with the DOTr is surpassed only by his tenacity in holding on to his job. It is no surprise that nothing on this scale was ever achieved during his term.
As we left Clark, I had the feeling that despite the good that he was trying to do, Sec. Tugade will be in for some tough times with his critics. The scope and magnitude of what he is trying to do makes it a certainty that there will be people who would oppose him.
But the thing is, the same ‘scope and magnitude’ that scares some people, is precisely the reason why we must get behind the advocacy of Tugade. Not only does it provide the employees of the DOTr an fresh start, it will also help in decongesting Metro Manila, and may spur other concerned government agencies to make the move as well. Bottomline, Sec. Art is showing us that it is way past time we stopped being selfish and started looking out for the rest of the country. Especially if you’re in public service.