I had my reservations when Mark Villar was named Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) back in 2016. While I have known the young Villar to be smart, diligent, and good natured, I thought that he lacked the political experience and engineering savvy required of a DPWH Secretary. Sure, he was raised to be an entrepreneur and trained in the family business, but this was not enough for him to take on one of the most difficult jobs in the cabinet. Worse, he was coming on the heels of Babes Singson, a highly respected engineer and technocrat.
Don’t get me wrong, Mark is a good guy. His parents are close friends of my in-laws and we were colleagues at the Entrepreneurs Organization a few years ago. But lets be honest, to deliver on the enormous promises of Build, Build, Build requires more than entrepreneurial and management abilities. It requires experience in navigating government’s gnarly bureaucracy and a deep understanding of all matters related to civil engineering. Like me, many felt that Mark Villar was the wrong person for the wrong job, appointed for the wrong reasons.
The stakes couldn’t be higher since the success or failure of government’s infrastructure program could make or break this administration and, consequently, the entire nation. Nearly half of the projects of the Build, Build, Build program fall under the purview of the DPWH.
Half way into his term, Secretary Villar has proven me wrong. As he delivered his report in the pre-SONA conference, it was obvious that the DPWH completed more projects in the last three years than the collective projects accomplished over the last decade. While this is likely due to a bigger budget appropriation and better internal systems within the department, the outcome could have been completely different if Mr. Villar did not lead the department with intent, vigor, and diligence. He proved to be a beast — and I say this in the positive sense of the word.
The DPWH’s mandate is to build roads, bridges, highways, public school buildings, evacuation centers, and flood mitigation structures for public use. Due to the lack of space, let me narrate what was accomplished in the three areas of wide interested — roads, bridges, and highways.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS ON ROADS & HIGHWAYS
In the last three years, 96,165 new roads were built to connect ports to tourism corridors and tourist destinations. Among them were the Cogtong Road leading to the beaches of Bohol, the Dapa-Union-Gen. Luna Road leading to the beaches of Siargao, and the 18-kilometer circumferential road of Boracay. Apart from this, 3,201 kilometers of tourism roads were widened, repaired, and rehabilitated.
To support manufacturing industries, 175.92 kilometers of new roads were built to link free ports, industrial zones, and trade corridors. Among them are the Poro Point Highways and Baguio-Bontoc Road in Benguet. The work is far from over as 9,430 kilometers more are needed to completely connect our trade and manufacturing zones.
To support agriculture, 1,096 kilometers of farm to market roads were built, with 1,044 kilometers more earmarked for construction within the next three years.
The DPWH has an ongoing program called the “High Standard Highway Network Program.” Its purpose is to build world-class superhighways to connect the country’s three largest economic centers — Manila, Cebu, and Davao, to their adjacent cities. The project calls for the construction of 1,049.92 kilometer of superhighways for which 888.26 kilometers are in Luzon, 73.75 kilometers in Cebu, and 87.01 kilometers in Davao. A total of $43.93 billion will be spent on this program.
In Luzon, 25 superhighways are in various stages of completion, with the majority to be completed by 2022. The 25 highways are collectively called the “Luzon Spine Expressway Network.” When completed, Luzon will have 1,271 kilometers of first-class superhighways, three times more than the 382 kilometers we had three years ago. Travel time between Ilocos to Bicol will be reduced from 20 hours to just nine hours.
In Metro Manila, Skyway Stage 3, which connects Buendia to NLEX (and effectively connects SLEX to NLEX) is in its final stages of construction. A portion of the Skyway starting from the Plaza Dilao ramp in Manila will be opened this month. The entire 18.68-kilometer stretch is scheduled to be operational by the first quarter of 2020. When completed, vehicles travelling from Parañaque (SLEX) to Balintawak (NLEX) need not pass EDSA nor C5 anymore. The Skyway is seen to reduce traffic on EDSA by as many as 50,000 to 100,000 vehicles a day. When finished, travel time between Buendia to Balintawak will be slashed from two hours to just 20 minutes.
The Harbor Link Road connects the Port Area to NLEX. Segment 10, or the 5.65-kilometer stretch that traverses the cities of Valenzuela, Malabon, and Caloocan, was opened last March. The entire project is 21.65 kilometers long and will be fully operational by early in 2020.
A second NLEX-SLEX connector road is in the works. It is an eight-kilometer all-elevated four-lane expressway extending the NLEX southward from Caloocan to Sta. Mesa. The project includes two interchanges located at C3 Road, Caloocan, and España, Manila. Construction started in April and is due for completion in mid-2021, assuming all things go according to schedule. This connector road will divert 35,000 cars out of EDSA.
All things told, the DPWH was able to build, rehabilitate, widen, and upgrade 9,845 kilometers of roads in three years. This is more than the collective length of roads serviced in the last three administrations.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN BRIDGES
There are only 16 bridges that cross the Pasig River, too few to support Metro Manila’s 12.8 million population who live and work on either side of the tributary. The DPWH will construct 12 more bridges within the next few years at a total cost of P36.48 Billion.
Civil works are already ongoing for the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge in Mandaluyong, the Ortigas-BGC bridge, and the Binondo-Intramuros bridge. Awaiting rehabilitation with its detailed engineering design (DED) completed are the Lambingan bridge in Sta. Ana, Manila, and the Guadalupe bridge.
In the pipeline and awaiting DED completion are the bridges that connect the avenues of Marikina and Vista Real in Quezon City; J.P. Rizal and Lopez Jaena in Marikina; J.P. Rizal and St. Mary in Marikina; Mercury and Evangelista in Pasig; the East Bank and West Bank in Cainta; Blumentritt and Antipolo in Manila; Beata and Manolo in Manila; North and South Harbor in Manila; and Palanca and Villegas in Manila.
Outside Metro Manila, 16 bridges are in various stages of construction to link up the archipelago. Under construction are the 3.77-kilometer Panguil Bay Bridge, the 440-meter Guicam Bridge in Zamboanga, and three bridges in Tawi-Tawi spanning a total of 0.78 kilometer.
Awaiting NEDA approval is the 600-meter Panglao-Tagbilaran offshore connector bridge.
Meanwhile, feasibility studies are ongoing for the 31-kilometer Bataan-Cavite Interlink; the 17.3-kilometer Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge; the 5.5-kilometer Negros-Cebu Link Bridge; the 18.2-kilometer Sorsogon-Samar Link Bridge; the 640-meter New Mactan bridge; the 24.5-kilometer Cebu-Bohol Link Bridge; and the 2.85-kilometer Davao-Samal Bridge
Feasibility studies have yet to be started for the 15-kilometer Mindoro-Batangas super bridge, the 10.7-kilometer Camarines-Catanduanes Friendship Bridge, and the 23-kilometer Leyte-Surigao Link Bridge
All things told, a total of 2,709 bridges across the archipelago are either under construction, awaiting construction, widened, strengthened, rehabilitated, or upgraded.
Secretary Villar’s accomplishments are impressive and I am very satisfied with what has been done so far. It just proves that a strong entrepreneurial spirit can overcome the most challenging of fields and the most difficult of bureaucracies. The challenge now is to finish the greater majority of projects remaining in the Build, Build, Build program before President Duterte’s term is over. Can it be done? If the last three years are anything to go by, we have reason to be optimistic.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.