OF TREES AND FOREST
(Part 1 of 2)
When my son, Mark, accepted the offer of then newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte to be part of his Cabinet, some people expressed doubts. Social media was abound with malicious and baseless accusations. When Mark resigned as Secretary of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) last week in order to file his certificate of candidacy for senator, he quashed all those doubts and left DPWH and the nation with an astounding set of accomplishments that will benefit future generations of Filipinos.
Before he took over the DPWH portfolio, I told Mark that he was about to embark on a challenging and historic journey; he was about to be at the forefront of the flagship program of the Duterte administration. But I knew he was ready for the job. I had no doubt whatsoever.
Critics will probably say that I am biased. Yes, I am the proud father of Mark. And yes, I am probably the least objective in assessing Mark’s performance as DPWH secretary. The critics are biased too because I think it has been their mission from day one to make sure Mark fails. So let us look at the data since numbers do not lie and do not have partisan motives.
Roads and bridges are the essential building blocks of the economy. Modern and efficient infrastructure facilitates trade by connecting supply chains and efficiently moving goods and services across borders. It helps people’s mobility moves, promotes businesses, and creates opportunities for everyone. Infrastructure spending therefore is a key element of national development.
Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s mandate to “Build, Build, Build” and to usher in the “Golden Age of Philippine Infrastructure,” Mark set out to lead DPWH accomplish this herculean task. From 2016-2019, infrastructure spending rose to an unprecedented 4.93 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The P3.417 trillion spent on infrastructure during this period dwarfed what has been accomplished in the past: P1.784 trillion (2010-2016) and, P837.56 billion (2001-2010).
Under his leadership, the DPWH completed the construction, maintenance, widening, upgrade and rehabilitation of a total of 29,264 kilometers of roads for the period of July, 2016 to May, 2021 with more than 15,000 kilometers more ongoing. During the same period, the DPWH completed 5,950 bridges, 11,340 flood control projects, 150,149 classrooms, and 222 evacuation centers.
But there is more to the numbers that meets the eye. A total of 2,436 kilometers of roads were completed to improve access and connectivity to tourism gateways, service centers and tourism sites. This was part of the Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP) designed to strengthen the country’s tourism industry and provide jobs to our people.
The DPWH also built 443 kilometers of access roads that would enhance linkages towards the nation’s seaports, airports and railway stations further augmenting the logistics, transport and economic activities in these key transport hubs. More than P40 billion was also released for the construction or improvement of farm to market roads identified by the Department of Agriculture and farm-to-mill roads identified by the Sugar Regulatory Administration.
All these infrastructure spending led to the creation of 6.574 jobs from 2016 to 2020. And Mark just updated me with the numbers: 1.604 million jobs created so far in 2021. At a time when the nation is facing the biggest crisis of our time, at a time when a raging pandemic has slowed our economy and left people without livelihood, infrastructure spending is providing our nation with a lifeline: Jobs, jobs, jobs!
DPWH was also at the forefront of decongesting the economic center that is Metro Manila. A study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) placed the economic cost of Metro Manila traffic to a staggering P3.5 billion a day with the situation getting worse to P5.4 billion a day by 2035 if interventions will not be made. And so the DPWH poured in P240.6 billion to the EDSA Decongestion Program that built 11 bridges and 14 roads/expressways. These projects include, among others, the 18.83 kilometer Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 which reduced travel time from Buendia to Balintawak from two hours to 15-20 minutes. During its inaugural opening, traffic in EDSA was noticeably better which is a relief to daily commuters.
On the basis of these alone, I would give Mark high marks for his accomplishments. But his leadership qualities was in full display at the DPWH as he introduced reforms in public procurement processes as well as strategies in addressing right of way issues which delayed many infrastructure projects in the past. I will dwell on this next week.