A storied history of public service

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The Department of Transportation (DoTr) has one of the most illustrious histories of public service, having been founded under the Malolos Constitution on Jan. 21, 1899, making it one of the country’s earliest government organizations.

As the primary policy, planning, programming, coordinating, implementing and administrative entity of the executive branch of the government, the DoTr is mandated to promote, develop and regulate a dependable and coordinated network of transportation systems, as well as ensure a fast, safe, efficient and reliable public transportation service for the Filipino people.

The DoTr is essential in the nation’s ongoing pursuit of economic growth. By creating effective and efficient transportation infrastructure systems that bridge the physical and geographical gap and link the nation, its islands, and its people to the rest of the globe, the agency supports growth and strengthens the nation’s competitive edge.

“Since its dawn up to now, the DoTr has been indefatigable in its thrust towards delivering a fast, reliable, safe, affordable, comfortable, and accessible transportation system across the country, through the realization of the much-needed transport infrastructure projects, programs, and initiatives,” the department said in a statement on celebrating its 124th founding anniversary.

In the department’s annual report for 2021, nearing the end of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s term, Former Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade expressed his pride at the agency’s achievements in recent years.

“Numbers do not lie. And we have the proverbial numbers to prove that we have perhaps imprinted a legacy of unprecedented transformational initiatives in our public transport system,” he wrote in the report.

“The projects we completed and the transformational initiatives we implemented have painted the colors to what was once a dream. Our earnest hope is that the legacy we will leave behind will create an indelible impact that will benefit Filipinos in the generations to come.”

According to Mr. Tugade, the DoTr has completed 233 airport development projects and 484 seaport development projects in his term of office, all of which have enabled the agency to improve further mobility and connectivity across regions. These projects were pursued with inclusivity in mind, giving recognition and importance to a vast regional development push sans the politics and economic class status.

“Now, our people are enjoying the experience of world-class airports and seaports in major urban areas. At the same time, modernization and rehabilitation of rural gateways and maritime ports were pushed, with some of them ongoing now,” he said.

Among these accomplishments are “game-changing” projects like the massive North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) system in the country’s railways. This major transport infrastructure project is expected to become the backbone of Luzon’s mass transport system, with its eventual integration with LRT-1, LRT-2, and MRT-3.

Another project Mr. Tugade also mentioned to be on track is the mammoth Metro Manila Subway project, the very first, long overdue subway rail system in the country. This is alongside the construction of vital Light Rail links such as MRT-7 (Quezon City to Bulacan via Commonwealth Avenue), LRT-1 Cavite Extension, and the Unified Grand Central Station or “Common Station,” which he is proud to admit are all proceeding apace and on schedule.

Approval for the construction of MRT-4 has also been secured as the department inaugurated the LRT-2 East Extension project in 2021.

“Indeed, these enormous railway projects herald the Golden Age of Infrastructure of our country. They are undeniably big-ticket projects that should have been done long ago but are now real, tangible, and will enable us to catapult and elevate to modernity, global recognition, and genuine progress,” Mr. Tugade said.

For the country’s road transport system, the DoTr has pursued improvements and upgrades to the systems like the innovative EDSA Busway, and has introduced eco-friendly global concepts such as the 500-kilometer bike lanes in major cities. Green lanes in select routes and roadways have also been planned.

Meanwhile, there are needed changes being implemented and instituted in the nation’s driver’s education and licensing programs, including giving the 10-year driver’s license validity to those who can qualify alongside introducing a more rigid and thorough vehicle inspection. These efforts hope to ensure the roadworthiness of vehicles and their drivers, as well as minimize road accidents. RFIDs are also now widely used in of the country’s toll expressways.

“All these initiatives were instituted and accomplished despite the pandemic that prevailed in 2021, which truly tested the limits of our patience, tolerance, resources, and our willingness to overcome such challenges,” Mr. Tugade said.

“The enduring effect of COVID-19 has made it more challenging to navigate and manage our public transport system, given the need to strike a balance between public health and safety against the vital economic need of our people for mobility and connectivity. But we believe that with our commitment to excellence, our passionate dedication, and resolute will to achieve and surpass expectations, we were able to overcome the challenges of the times.”

“And more than the actual work we have done, our sense of pride and accomplishment comes from fulfilling our mandate…to give our people the experience and opportunity of a more comfortable life. For this alone, we take a bow in front of the Filipino people and proudly say that your Department of Transportation has given its all to rendering the best public service you deserve,” he added.

Launching of the Metro Manila Subway Project’s tunnel boring machine last November 2022, led by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Secretary Jaime J. Bautista

Under a half year-old administration of Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and now under the leadership of Secretary Jaime J. Bautista, the DoTr is celebrating its 124th anniversary with a message of a commitment to “1 Vision and Mission, 2 Build Better More, 4 the Filipino People.”

Looking back at 124 years of history

When a Congress general assembly approved the establishment of the Malolos Constitution, the DoTr had become part of the First Philippine Republic’s Council of Government. Gracio Gonzaga served as the Secretary of Public Welfare, which covered the transportation and communications portfolio, from Jan. 21, 1899, to May 7, 1899, during the time that Apolinario Mabini was the President of the Cabinet (i.e., Prime Minister).

From there, the DoTr—under many different names, including the Department of Commerce and Police, Department of Commerce and Communications, and Department of Public Works and Communications—has been part of Philippine history since.

In 1901, the Philippine Commission established the Department of Commerce and Police, which encompassed the functions of transportation and communications, transferring the management of public property and revenue, and the use of all public means of transportation from the US Army where it had been during the American occupation back to civilian authority.

The Philippine Bill of 1902, or the Philippine Organic Act, then authorized the government of the Philippine Islands to provide for the needs of commerce. This included improving harbors, constructing maintaining bonded warehouses, wharves, piers, light-houses, signal and life-saving stations, buoys, and like instruments of commerce, as well as to adopt and enforce regulations.

In 191 . the Reorganization Act 2666 as amended by Act No. 2803 gave birth to the Department of Commerce and Communications, consisting of the Bureau of Commerce and Industry, Bureau of Supply, Bureau of Public Works, Bureau of Posts, Bureau of Labor and Bureau of Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Gov. Gen. Francis presided over the formation of the first cabinet made up of Filipinos in 1917, which then appointed Governor of Cebu Dionisio Jakosalem to serve as Secretary of Commerce and Communication. His term as governor of Cebu was highlighted by the construction of highways and government facilities. He is recognized with building the highways that connect the province’s southern and northern regions.

The Philippine Legislature through Act No. 4007, renamed the Department of Commerce and Communications into the Department of Public Works and Communications.

Following the establishment of the Commonwealth Government, the Bureau of Public Works, Ports, Aeronautics, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Metropolitan Water District Division of Marine, Railway and Repair Shop, National Radio Broadcasting, Irrigation Council, and Board of Examiners for Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, and Mining Engineers were added to the Department of Public Works and Communications.

President Manuel Quezon issued Executive Order 396 during the Japanese occupation, which reorganized and grouped the cabinet. With Basilio Valdes as secretary, the Department of Public Works and Communication was renamed to the Department of National Defense, Public Works, Communications, and Labor. The agency would keep this name until it was named back in 1945.

The department saw an upheaval under the 1973 Constitution under President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr., which saw a parliamentary form of governance established and departments renamed into ministries, establishing the formal ministry system. Hence, the Department of Public Works and Communications became the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (MPWTC).

To redefine the roles and priorities of each government ministry, President Marcos issued Executive Order 546 that divided the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (MPWTC) into two agencies, the Ministry of Public Works and Highways (MPWH) and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MoTC). Minister Jose P. Dans served as head of the MoTC.

When President Corazon C. Aquino assumed her position, the ministry was reverted back to a department. The DoTC was then put under the helm of leadership of Secretary Jesus B. Garcia in 1992, and has since seen a significant growth in terms of investments, facilities and technology onwards.

The government’s program of liberalization attracted domestic and international investors, ushering in new resources and technologies in, among other areas, the communications and transportation industries. In order to undertake its infrastructure projects, the department interconnected the various modes and technologies within its area of control in accordance with the multi-modal/multi-gateway approach, which brings the DoTr to where it is today. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran

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