Public service is a thankless job. Criticisms, now amplified via social media, are part of daily life. Do little, then a public servant is deemed worthless; do more, then a public servant is accused of grandstanding or credit grabbing. It is hard to find the perfect balance but if there is one Cabinet member of the Duterte administration who found the ideal formula of being under the radar with regard to his private life, yet accomplishing much in his public capacity as a secretary of a department, it is Mark A. Villar of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
One of the original Cabinet members sworn in Malacañang on the President’s inauguration, Villar initially met some skepticism about his capabilities as the public saw him behind the shadows of his parents – the business titan Manny Villar and Senate poll topnotcher Cynthia Villar.
As one of the youngest in Duterte’s Cabinet, the young Villar proved early on that he can do the job just by marching to the order of the President to eradicate corruption in the department most notorious for it. But it is not only corruption that Villar faced, but also bureaucratic red tape, substandard and delayed delivery of projects, and a general lack of vision for infrastructure development. The challenges were colossal for the then 38-year-old Villar.
But, perhaps, gleaning on the lessons of his parents, Villar personified the “sipag at tiyaga” mantra of his father and did just that in the DPWH, which became the lead agency for the implementation of the “Build, Build, Build” program of the government. The “Build, Build, Build” lived up to its name and did not only build a road, but roads that linked farms to the markets; it did not only build a bridge but bridges that linked cities and drastically reduced traffic; it did not only build an airport but airports that showcased Filipino culture and ingenuity.
More importantly, the legacy of “Build, Build, Build” is found in the 1.48 million jobs that were generated during the global health pandemic from March 2020 to August 2021.
In the past few weeks, the President was all praises for Villar’s accomplishments, citing, among others, the 29,000 kilometers of roads built and the beautiful airports inaugurated all over the country. In a new report, the DPWH highlighted its projects in Western Visayas, citing a “total of 2,193 kilometers of national roads and 467 bridges built” to improve the region’s road network. The DPWH’s website has a dizzying list of updates, openings, or completions of projects as monumental as the 1.48-kilometer BGC-Ortigas Center Road Link Project that cuts travel time between BGC and Ortigas to only 12 minutes, to as significant as the 49.82-kilometer Bacolod Negros Occidental Economic Highway slated for completion in 2022 that will boost business and tourism potentials of the area.
Amid all these accomplishments, what is compelling with Villar is that he does not take the limelight all to himself. Last Monday, he announced his resignation effective today, Oct. 6, 2021, and proceeded to thank the personnel of the DPWH who accepted him like family and helped him fulfill the deliverables of the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program even in a pandemic.
“I have a lot of memories with the people I met at DPWH. The credit should go to those here in this department, the millions of workers who worked for DPWH,” Villar said.
In these days when it is hard to tell a public servant that he or she did a “good job,” there is a Mark Villar who, whether one agrees or not with the politics of this administration, has demonstrated that it is possible to build a department that is scandal-free, to build a project that is delivered honestly, and to build a legacy that can be seen concretely.