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Art Tugade and his inherited headaches

Chrisee Dela Paz
Art Tugade and his inherited headaches
The new transportation chief's tall order from the President: No long waiting lines in all public transport

MANILA, Philippines – The glitch-ridden Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3), a dilapidated international airport, a legal roadblock on a much-needed common train station, and the surge of private vehicles on the streets are some of the headaches Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade had inherited from his predecessors. 

“There will be improvements [within 100 days], but don’t expect me to solve all these on Day One. The traffic problem in the country is a product of a decade of negligence,” Tugade said on his first day as the country’s transportation chief.

On his 19th day of watch, one of the runways of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) already failed him, after a 5-inch deep crack was found on the asphalt overlay. This led to 28 flight diversions, at least 40 cancelled flights, and hundreds of frustrated passengers.

But Tugade was quick to apologize and address the inconvenience. (READ: Tugade apologizes for NAIA runway closure, vows improvements)

Filipinos on social media compared this to how his predecessor Joseph Emilio Abaya reacted to similar situations.


Impatient, incorruptible

For Tugade’s former and current colleagues, the way he acted on the NAIA runway closure incident shows how he is as a public servant.

“He knows accountability. He wants to get things done and solve problems under his turf as fast as he could,” Victor Luciano, a board member of the Civil Aeronautics Board who has worked with Tugade for decades, said in a phone interview.

Asked to describe Tugade as a colleague in a sentence, Luciano said: “He is an incorruptible, impatient action man.”

“His weakness could be… he is impatient and can be tough when it comes to asking his employees for results. He hates mediocrity. You might also hear him curse whenever they (employees) sugarcoat. Well, all he wants from his co-workers is transparency. You can’t blame him,” Luciano added.

Luciano said Tugade will even skip sleep for days just to get things done.

“I think he expects the best from his co-workers because he himself doesn’t do mediocre, lackluster jobs. He does all his duties through hard work,” he added.

For Transportation Undersecretary Noel Kintanar, the transportation chief, who works even on Sundays, serves as a good role model for them.

“Our boss really works hard and we are trying to keep up with him,” Kintanar said on the sidelines of an ANC transportation forum.

His remarks were echoed by transportation spokesperson Cherie Mercado.

“Secretary Art doesn’t give up. He works really hard to get things done – even if it means thinking outside the box. If there are barriers to what he wants to achieve, he’ll think of other means,” Mercado said on the sidelines of a media briefing last week.

The NAIA runway closure incident served as a wake-up call for the newly-installed transportation chief and his entire department, which led them to lay out a more detailed plan to address the country’s transportation woes slowly but surely.

For transportation expert Rene Santiago, it’s a good sign. (READ: A long, winding road for better Metro Manila transport)

“Starting one’s tenure with low-hanging fruits can produce early wins,” Santiago, president of infrastructure consultancy Bellwether Advisory Incorporated, told Rappler via email.

“While Metro Manila is still very much a battleground for transport and traffic, I think the Department of Transportation Secretary should work on an urban mass transport project in one of our major cities,” University of the Philippines professor and former National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) director Jose Regin Regidor said in an e-mail correspondence.

After the NAIA runway crack mess, Tugade detailed his plans to solve these transportation headaches one step at a time.

Fixing the MRT3

Tugade hailed his predecessor for ordering additional MRT3 cars, as the government has been under fire for technical glitches and long lines.

Continuing what has been done, Tugade plans to increase the MRT3’s speed to 50 kilometers per hour (kph) from the current 40 kph, and passenger per hour per destination to 15,760 from 14,184.

This will be made possible by increasing the MRT3 trains to 20 with 60 cars, from the current 16 with 48 cars. (READ: CA junks MRT3 owners’ appeal to stop gov’t from getting more trains)

Once the trains arrive from China, Transportation Undersecretary Kintanar told reporters that the railway’s power supply will be improved.

“We have to improve power supply, but we need to add substations. It is called to our attention that the bidding of substation is delayed. It is not easy to put up a substation,” he explained.

Kintanar added that within the first 100 days, the department will fix the system’s signalling system.

“This is to ensure passenger safety. We will have a workshop internally. We already have a contractor,” he said.

For Tugade, these are basic maintenance tasks that can be addressed within the first 100 days.

“But MRT3 is not an overnight fix. We will push as hard as we can to address the system,” the transportation chief added.

The transportation department had signed a memorandum of understanding with Smart Communications Incorporated to provide free Wi-Fi in the MRT3 at no expense to the government.

Decongesting NAIA

Last repaired in 2011, NAIA runways are long due for another overhaul and proper maintenance.

I want all runways examined. I want all runway repairs and maintenance to be contained in the computer. I want it to be technology dictated so that when it’s time to do the asphalt overlay all the technology will just tell and you know it’s about time that asphalt overlay is required.”

This was Tugade’s quick order to his department when a NAIA runway was temporarily closed last July 18 due to a deep asphalt crack.

CONNECTIVITY. The transportation department will provide Manila-Clark connectivity using a standard train or a connector road.

“Although it was irritatingly painful, it was also a learning experience. We will not allow for it to happen again,” Tugade said on July 18.

Among his considerations to decongest NAIA include building a 3rd runway or another passenger terminal or transferring general aviation activities to Sangley Point in Cavite or Clark International Airport

Tugade has also opened his doors for unsolicited proposals for a new international gateway.

Suffering from congestion, NAIA has been above its handling capacity of 28 million passengers annually. In 2015, passenger arrivals surged to 50,210.

Resolving common station 

It has been almost two years since the Supreme Court stopped the transfer of the site of the planned Light Rail Transit (LRT)-MRT common station. But the problem remains unsolved.

“For the common station, the solution is hopefully in the first 100 days. H’wag niyo muna tatanungin kung saan kasi baka mabulabog (Don’t ask first where the common station will be located because talks might be disturbed),” Tugade told reporters.

Former transportation chief Abaya had planned to resolve the issue by putting up two common stations: one near SM City North EDSA that will connect MRT Line 7 (MRT7) to MRT3, and another near Ayala’s TriNoma mall that will connect LRT Line 1 (LRT1) to MRT3.

This approach is meant to resolve a conflict with SM Prime over the common station. SM Prime in August 2014 obtained a Supreme Court order stopping the DOTC and the LRT Authority (LRTA) from transferring the location of the common station to TriNoma mall.

Under a September 28, 2009, memorandum of agreement between SM Prime and LRTA, the common station should be beside SM North City EDSA, after it paid the government P200 million ($4.25 million) for the naming rights to the proposed station.

But the government in 2014 insisted that putting up the proposed common station near TriNoma mall would result in “P1 billion ($21.26 million) in savings to the government.”

Easing EDSA traffic congestion

For Metro Manila traffic that’s becoming more congested, the transportation department has several ideas – from building a cable car to opening up gated villages.

If the department pushes through with the cable car plan, Filipinos would see a mass transit system soaring over cities such as Pasig and Makati.

SUBWAY IN THE SKY. The country's incoming transportation chief wants a cable car system in Makati, Pasig, and Laguna

“I’m borrowing from the Bolivia experience where they use cable cars. We can start in the Pasig area and then move on to EDSA, use gondolas that can carry 35 passengers,” Tugade told ANC’s Headstart in Filipino on Tuesday, June 28.

Tugade also talked about the establishment of friendship or alternative routes, by opening private subdivision roads to non-resident motorists.

Echoing President Rodrigo Duterte, Tugade had asked people not to corrupt government officers and officials. 

“It is not only the department that will solve the traffic problem. You are included. How? By following the rules. We should help one another,” Tugade had said after the turnover ceremony in Mandaluyong City last July 1.

“[Within the first 100 days], it will be the simple things to be done. You want something beautiful? Give us special powers,” the transportation secretary said. 

Special powers “would address unified traffic scheme or unified traffic rules, right of way and takeover of properties ‘pag kailangan mo sa (when you need it for) traffic for transportation requirements.”

Tugade added, “We do not intend to be arbitrary, capricious or whimsical or confiscatory.” –

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