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Newsmakers

Mark his work

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Mark his work
The Cebu-Cordova Bridge, which will become the Philippines’ longest once completed.

I have seen few as hardworking as and even fewer with the lack of self-entitlement of Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

For one, he doesn’t need to work so hard. He is, after all, the son of a very wealthy man who needs no introduction, Manny Villar, and an accomplished public servant, Sen. Cynthia Villar.

But Mark follows a punishing schedule as public works chief, and chief implementer of the Duterte administration’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program. When it rains, Mark inspects flood control projects. When the sun shines, he visits construction sites.

What has “Build, Build, Build” accomplished so far since President Duterte launched it as the centerpiece of his administration?

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar inspects the Cebu-Cordova Bridge.
Photo by Joanne Rae Ramirez

“As of today, a total of 29,264 kilometers of roads, 5,950 bridges, 214 airports and 451 seaport projects,” says Mark. “We have spent P3 trillion in the past five years and employed about 6.5 million people.”

I flew with Mark and the indefatigable Anna Mae Lamentillo, chairman of the “Build, Build, Build” interagency committee, to Cebu recently to visit the Cebu Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX), which will be the Philippines’ longest bridge. He was also set to inaugurate the 129-kilometer Metro Cebu Bike Lane network. (Mark is a biking enthusiast, having lost almost 20 pounds from biking an hour daily.)

The flight to Cebu was at 7 a.m. and Mark arrived ahead of time, making me glad I did, too (I was tempted to think the flight was actually at 8 a.m., and we were just asked to be there an hour before. But, no, we took off at 7 a.m. Had I been late, I would have been left behind!)

The day before, Mark was in Tarlac to inaugurate with President Duterte the Central Luzon Link Freeway. And the day after, he was going to Pampanga for the inauguration of the Clark International airport with Secretary Vince Dizon.

He gets his energy from his wife Em’s loving care (she makes him a glass of kale juice shake every morning) and from his purpose. He thinks of his job as a bridge to a better quality of life for others.

“I want parents to come home earlier to their children and not to be stuck in traffic because there are not enough roads or bridges,” says Mark, father to five-year-old Emma.

With engineers of the Metro Pacific Tollways Corp.

***

Upon landing in Cebu, we went straight to the 129-kilometer Metro Cebu Bike Lane network, a project of the Department of Transportation and the DPWH. The network runs through four major cities in the province — Cebu City, Mandaue City, Talisay City, and Lapu-Lapu City. Mark says this bike network has become even more important since the pandemic has forced the nation to adjust its modes of commuting to work.

From there, we had lunch consisting of Cebu delicacies at the seaside Parilya restaurant. After resting a bit, we proceeded to a jetty where we underwent further safety screening before embarking on a speedboat to the Cebu Cordova Bridge. We emerged from the safety screening garbed in safety vests (with neon signs), with a life vest over it. We were also given construction hard hats.

After a brief boat ride, we disembarked on a spit of land in the middle of the sea, and walked a stone path to a scaffolding. There, we climbed about three stories on a steep steel staircase, before riding an elevator encased in see-through iron walls, up, up, up 18 stories to the bridge itself. The elevator ride gave us a panoramic view of the sea and the bridge that would link Cebu and Cordova.

We alighted to a wide expanse of concrete 52 meters above sea level, with a 145-meter pylon towering over us.  For many, it was a first look at the bridge that was almost 85 percent complete. The blue sky, the sea wind, and the rush of the ride to the top was exhilarating.

The author (center) with Build, Build, Build’s Anna Mae Lamentillo and Undersecretary Ramon Cualoping III of the Philippine Information Agency.

***

In 2017, President Duterte led the groundbreaking rites for the 8.5-kilometer CCLEX, the third bridge that would cross the Mactan Channel, connecting the Cebu mainland from the Cebu South Coastal Road to Cordova town on the southernmost tip of Mactan Island.

“The CCLEX is said to be the largest single investment by a private company in the Philippines today. It is a project of the Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. (MPTC), a unit under Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC),” wrote lawyer Mike Toledo of the MVP group in a recent column.

According to Toledo, in order to serve as a vital link, not just of commerce, people, and transportation, but also of history to modernity, of the past to the present and also to the future, eight 40-meter-tall crosses, including light fixtures, were constructed and installed on top of the eight 140-meter twin pylon towers of the bridge on the Mactan Channel.

“We add a deeper and loftier meaning to CCLEX by adding eight 40-meter crosses that celebrate the coming of Christ 500 years ago. These crosses will illuminate the skyline of Metro Cebu — beacons of hope and progress, symbols of achievement, and everything Cebuanos are proud of,” Toledo said.

For Metro Pacific chairman, Manuel V. Pangilinan or MVP, the blessing and lighting of these 40-meter-high crosses is “an achievement and a source of pride.”

“In many ways, we at Metro Pacific Tollways are the Magellans of today — building ways for people to make discoveries, to travel, and to bring gifts of life and faith, anywhere in this country and even beyond our shores,” Toledo quoted MVP as saying on the significance of the crosses on bridge on the province where Ferdinand Magellan first landed four centuries ago, bringing with him, among other things, the Catholic faith.

The DPWH has built access and connector roads to the bridge, which is expected to be inaugurated in March 2022. When asked who gets the credit for all the infrastructure projects under his watch, Mark simply says, “The 6.5 million people who worked on them.” *

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

MARK VILLAR
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