By Goddes Hope S. Oliveros
The new Department of Transportation (DOTr) came in at a really bad time. The country’s main airport was the world’s worst, laglagbala was a money-making scheme, flights were always delayed, motorists had no license cards, vehicles had no plates, the MRT-3 suffered countless glitches and was unreliable, dilapidated jeepneys were kings of the road, and business processes took almost forever.
To say that there was so much to be done was a great understatement. The transportation department was on the news every day for all the wrong reasons. People were getting impatient, and change seemed like a long shot.
Then, President Duterte appointed award-winning businessman, and their law school valedictorian, Arthur P. Tugade to lead the DOTr and transform the transportation system in the country.
A tough job required a tough guy like Art Tugade.
As soon as Secretary Tugade assumed office, he initiated the formulation of a 30-year roadmap that will address traffic congestion, and provide a consolidated nationwide transportation system that is efficient, intelligent, and environment-friendly. For Sec. Tugade, transportation should be treated as an equalizer of life, much like death and taxes. The jeepney or the bus should neither be associated with the poor nor private cars with the rich. Commuters wearing slippers and commuters wearing a suit should be able to take the same train or the same bus.
In just two years, the DOTr is changing the headlines. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) went from being the “worst” to one of the “most improved” airports in the world. The nightmare of laglagbala can now be put behind us. These are two of the biggest issues that the past administration hurdled, and which the new administration solved by shifting policies, strictly implementing existing rules, and sheer political will.
Before the Duterte administration took over, the On-Time Performance (OTP) of Philippine airports was at 48%. As of 2017, the OTP has been improved to 71%, which means delayed flights have been significantly reduced. Facilities for passenger convenience such as toilets and additional seats have been addressed. Fast and reliable wi-fi is offered for free.
Congestion at the NAIA is also continuously being addressed with stricter policies and additional infrastructure. Commercial flights were prioritized over general aviation, and pilots who declare they are ready to take-off must do so in 5 minutes or risk being put back at the end of the queue.
To decongest NAIA, airlines were also encouraged to launch more flights from the Clark International Airport. Before Sec. Tugade came in, there were only seven flights at Clark per week, passengers recorded were at a measly 800,000 annually, and the airport was highly under-maximized. Today, over 200 flights take off from CRK every week, and by the end of 2017, an all-time high 1.5 million passengers passed through CRK.
Making commercial airports capable of night-time operations is also a priority of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP). From only 15 night-rated airports by mid-2016, the number is now at 20. And, this year, four more are being night-rated, which means domestic flights do not have to be crammed during day time as well as more schedule options for passengers.
In January, 2018, the satellite-based Communication, Navigation, Surveillance / Air Traffic Management system was inaugurated. This project that comes with an ATM building and 10 additional radars to augment the existing three radars is necessary to make the airspace safer. The project was initiated in 2009 but did not go very far. DOTr-CAAP completed the project in a year and a half.
Airports all over the country are being improved and developed. For the first half of 2018, four airports have been given a facelift with improved passenger terminal buildings and wider runways —- Lal-lo International Airport and Tuguegarao Airport in the North, Tacloban Airport in the Visayas, and San Vicente Airport in Palawan.
The MRT-3 was one of the biggest challenges that the DOTr took on: Several trains were beyond repair, unloading incidents were a daily occurrence, facilities were in a bad condition, lines were incredibly long, and the half a million daily passengers were getting even more impatient with the sacrifices they had to make just to get to work every day. The ills of the MRT-3, which had accumulated for decades, remain one of the most difficult challenges that the DOTr is beset with. Since the Busan Universal, Rail, Inc. was terminated as a maintenance provider in November, 2017, the DOTr put together a maintenance transition team that has successfully fielded 15-18 running training sets, reduced unloading incidents remarkably, and repaired facilities such as elevators and escalators. In fact, just recently, MRT-3 set its longest “no unloading incident streak” in seven years. Through an agreement with the Japanese government, an experienced and highly-qualified maintenance provider will come in by June, and is tasked to bring the MRT-3 back to its original condition, while also increasing the number of trains and enhancing the system’s over-all reliability.
On the road, motorists held on to receipts because the previous Land Transportation Office (LTO) has failed to issue license cards. In less than six months, the Duterte administration began printing and releasing cards, this time with five years validity, and with an increased number of security features. The three million backlog was completely addressed by early 2017. Online appointments for license applications is also now available in some areas.
If motorists did not have licenses, vehicles didn’t have plates. The Supreme Court’s June, 2016, order to stop distribution was a major setback. The decision was lifted in January, 2018, and now, the DOTr is just waiting for the lifting of the disallowance set by the Commission on Audit (COA). It also inaugurated a plate making plant, which houses plate making equipment, so that the government may now manufacture plates on its own, ensuring a faster and more efficient production.
Before, motorists using the expressways had to queue and pay at every exit. But today, toll operators of every single toll system in the country have agreed to unify collection and make their systems interoperable to facilitate seamless and faster travel.
At sea, ports all over the country are in need of rehabilitation and improvement. The DOTr, together with the Philippine Ports Authority, aggressively modernized one port at a time to increase their operational efficiency. For 2018, over 100 port projects are being completed.
The Philippine Coast Guard is now better equipped than ever, making them more capable of protecting our coasts, marine environment, and our people. Lighthouses have also increased their operational efficiency. From only 113 operational lighthouses in 2014, DOTr was able to increase the number to 552 in 2017.
Across the board, business processes are being simplified and streamlined. In Marina, for example, it used to take 15 days before a seafarer could be issued a seafarer’s book, but today, the process would only take one day.
These improvements prove that with hard work and political will, great things can happen.
These reforms come with the biggest and boldest infrastructure plan for the Philippines. The Build, Build, Build program is geared towards being Duterte’s enduring legacy, as it aims to provide comfortable life for all.
The PNR line from Manila to Clark via Malolos and the LRT-1 Cavite Extension will start construction by mid-2018, while the country’s first subway system will break ground by the fourth quarter. The PNR line to Bicol will be revived, and the first rail system outside Luzon will be built in Mindanao.
By August, 2018, the new Bohol International Airport in Panglao and the new world-class terminal in Mactan, Cebu, will begin commercial operations. In Bicol, a new airport in Albay is being constructed.
Intermodal terminals are being built in Paranaque and Taguig, and soon in Bulacan, for passengers entering Metro Manila from the south and the north.
The country now has its first barge terminal located in Tanza, Cavite, so that cargoes are ferried via barges at sea, and not on roads. This will reduce the number of trucks plying the roads by 140,000 truck trips.
Under Tugade’s leadership, those who owe government, give the government its due. Case in point are PAL’s P6-billion debt and the non-remittance of CAAP of its dividends. For two years, GOCCs under the DOTr such as CAAP, PPA, and the MIAA have been remitting record-breaking dividends amounting to billions to the National Treasury.
For 2017, the DOTr delivered on its commitment to spend at least 80% of its budget in infrastructure projects, higher than the target spending set by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). This simply means that the people’s money is returned to the public in the form of projects and initiatives.
In July, 2017, Secretary Tugade did something that many thought was un-doable. He transferred the central office of the DOTr from Ortigas to Clark in Pampanga. For so long, the government has been saying we need to decongest Metro Manila, but only Tugade had the will to start doing so from his own home.
Finally, the DOTr is cracking down on all corrupt officials and employees in the department, as well as its attached agencies. Apart from dismissals within DOTr, officials and personnel from the LTO, LTFRB, CAAP, and MARINA were recently sacked for corruption charges.
The DOTr takes the issue of transparency very seriously. Bidding processes within the DOTr are now being streamed online, and it is among the top-performing agencies in implementing Freedom of Information.DOTr’s social media accounts likewise ranked as one of the top government social media accounts in terms of reach and engagement.
Secretary Art brings with him the values of hard work and incorruptibility. He is a brilliant manager and a selfless public servant.
Watch as this boy from the slums transform the state of transportation in the Philippines.