Tough leader with charm

Infectious smile gets things done for Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade

When Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur P. Tugade recently visited the Daily Tribune office, appearing in Straight Talk where he candidly replied to the questions of our own top reporters pertaining to the accomplishments of the department, he also agreed to be interviewed by the paper’s Lifestyle section.

Secretary Tugade, in response to our questions, was not only funny and frank, he was also charming and disarming. Not one to mince his words, he gave us more than a glimpse into the person who has succeeded in making DoTr one of the top performing agencies of the Philippine government, this by keeping to his personal style of dealing with his staff and the citizenry and an exemplary work ethic.

It was a pleasant exchange where he shared his life story, one of a young man who was born to a family that, in post-war Philippines, was experiencing economic difficulty. But this family had several assets going for them. Aside from having a set of parents who were hardworking and diligent and therefore good role models where their capacity for sacrifice and persistence was concerned, Tugade and his siblings were naturally born with high intellectual capacity which they, of course, matched with a desire to learn and make good in this world.

These early signs of giftedness would put Art in good stead, for a priest in San Beda College took notice of the bright child. It was a once-in-a-lifetime break that interestingly would lead to more opportunities which the young Tugade would welcome to his advantage.

To be sure, his was a youth not without difficulties. Where there were challenges, he rose to them, but always, he was honest with himself and took the straight and narrow path that would define the way he would eventually lead his life.

Tugade became successful at an early age, both as an executive with the Delgado Brothers Inc., and as a businessman who founded his first company.

THE Secretary busy at work in his office at Clark. BOB DUNGO JR.

Starting small

He likes to recall that when he started his own business firm, “there were only seven of us, all members of my family. By the time I moved on to join the government, we had nine companies.”

His is a story worth emulating, especially by our young people who may feel disheartened by lack of financial resources. But if he was exemplary as a young man, he, too, had his share of misdemeanors, making him like anyone else, perhaps the only difference being that he knew what he was aiming for in life and he did his best to achieve them.

In a manner of speaking, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation is very much like his boss, the President of the Philippines. He could talk like the President and he could make anyone laugh while getting away with speaking words that are better spoken in the privacy of one’s room. But then, that’s who Tugade is. He is just being himself and what he told us in the interview has given us a different perspective of how one can succeed in life and in one’s work with the government.

Daily Tribune’s Lifestyle section is proud to share their conversation with Secretary Arthur Tugade who gave us a number of scoops.

If you think that in this interview you would have known everything about him, allow us to tell you at this point that this is just part one of our interviews. More of what he said and how he entertained us in his office at the new Clark City in Pampanga, will appear in tomorrow’s issue.

Meanwhile, here is Secretary Tugade, in his own words, as he replied to our questions.

In a manner of speaking, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation is very much like his boss, the President of the Philippines. ROY PELOVELLO

First break

Daily Tribune (DT): Tell us about your early years. What did your parents do? Where did you grow up?

Arthur P. Tugade (APT): You know, my parents lived a simple life. They went through difficult times. They were government employees and they were earning little. They were clerks in the Bureau of Public Works and in the Bureau of Public Highways, two separate agencies at that time.

We were living on Delgado Street in Sampaloc, Manila. That was where I grew up, and I was studying in San Beda.

I would walk from Delgado Street in Legarda all the way to San Beda. It would be difficult to think how government employees who lived on Legarda would be able to send their children to San Beda. But I was given a chance by a priest from San Beda, Fr. Benigno Vigo Benabarre, OSB. A friend brought me to him. We were just children and we would just walk around the university belt.

He asked me if I wanted to study in San Beda and I said yes.

Fr. Benabarre died only in 2017. He reached more than 100 years old. I would visit him often because he was the key to my education. I owe him that debt of gratitude.

HE used to ride the jeepney, even placing himself by the estribo, hanging on for dear life. The Transport Secretary cites his commuting days as a measure of how well he knows about transport woes and concerns. ROY PELOVELLO

Named after MacArthur

DT: When were you born? We are curious because it seems auspicious. A thought for the Chinese New Year, though. And what is your complete name?

APT: I love your question. My original name was not Arthur Tugade. My original name was Jesus Planta Tugade. I was born on 9 January, Feast of the Jesus of Nazareth. My parents’ story was I was always sickly. The belief was if you were sickly, your parents should change your name and you won’t get sick anymore. My original name was “struck” on the post — an act known as pagtataga, in which one’s original name is supposedly embedded into the foundation of the house – after which a new name is given to the sickly child.

And my new name became Arthur because that was the day, 9 January, when MacArthur landed in Bonuan, Lingayen, Pangasinan.

So, when I was about to take my Bar exams, I had to have affidavits made to attest that Arthur and Jesus are one and the same person.

DT: What were your interests as a child?
APT: I grew up as a normal child. I was good at tumbang preso (touch the can). I loved to play skipping rope. Before, we had a game called Jack and Poy, but now it’s called Bato Bato Pick. So, I grew up as a normal child. Why a normal child? Because that is all we could afford, games that everyone played. We couldn’t afford expensive toys.

DT: How were you in school? Were you an honor student?
APT: Oo naman (Of course). If I could not maintain my grade, I would lose my scholarship. I started there in grade one. And I was able to maintain my grades. But I was only an honorable mention. I was accelerated. From grade five to grade seven. We were a group that skipped grade six.

I had my transformation in academics in college. That was when I really bloomed. I learned public speaking. I learned how to debate. I also became a writer in our school organ. I was even a columnist. I was the managing editor. That’s why I know the process of lay-outing.

Asthmatic in the Abbey

DT: At what point did you want to become a lawyer?
APT: You know the story behind that? Now that you have asked me that question, you have titillated my mind to recall. This is how it happened.

Now, here’s a scoop. I first entered the Abbey. Because I was a ward of a priest, alaga ng pari, I stayed inside the abbey for two years. But while inside the abbey, I became asthmatic.

The rule was if you entered the abbey and you left, you were also removed from the school, San Beda.

Now, I had a dilemma. If I leave, where would I go? Where would I end up? So, I appealed my case. I was in high school. I argued my case. I told the school authorities, why should you punish me when it is not my fault that I should get sick? So, I was allowed to continue my studies in San Beda. I also remained a scholar.

At the same time, I started thinking, after I had been able to convince them to allow me to continue my studies in San Beda. Maybe I can be a good lawyer. So, that’s when I began to entertain thoughts of becoming a lawyer. That was the initial seed.

DT: How was life in your neighborhood?
APT: We lived near the Moderno Theater. When you watched, you actually saw three movies. An added bonus was a bed bug that bit you and even went home with you.

Do you know the University of Manila? It had a wall. Down below it, that was where we lived. Under it was an estero (estuary). That was why I knew how to engage in garapa (a game involving bottles). During that time, you would look for tiny bottles and aluminum and these were being sold.

And if we earned some money, we could already watch movies at the Moderno Theater.

DT: Didn’t you have gang mates given that kind of environment? Did you also engage in juvenile mischief?

APT: What mischief can one do? If anything at all, we would cross the estero, climb the aratilis tree and pick its fruit.

Mendiola activist

DT: Let’s move forward a bit. How was your college life?
APT: It was the time of activism. I was with the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP). It was not a radical group, unlike Kabataang Makabayan. I ran for vice president of NUSP in a conference in Naga. We had an alliance with De la Salle. One popular member of our group was Chito Sto. Romana. During the election, we were attacked by the Sigma Rho of UP (University of the Philippines). Someone from UP was mauled and they claimed that the students of San Beda did it. Naturally, the ones who did it misled them by announcing they were from San Beda. So, we got into a brawl but I could only use my hands to parry them. But then I saw a Sluggo chair and I picked it up and used it to defend myself. My lips got hurt and broken.

DT: So, did you join rallies?
APT: Yes, I did. Those were the days when students would shout “Ibagsak ang imperyalismo (down with imperialism)” on the streets. And students would protest against police brutality. Our school was right on Mendiola. It was a battle ground every time there was a rally.

The priests would always advise us to refrain from violence. When the police ran after us, we would hide in San Beda and the police could not enter the school gates. My parents never knew about it, of course.

DT: You were on the honors list, of course.
APT: I graduated magna cum laude in my Liberal Arts course. I was cum laude in Law.

DT: What were your study habits?
APT: None at all. But I realized I had a good retentive ability. And as a student, I was very inquisitive. If your question is about habits, that would be it – I was inquisitive and I had retentive habits.

Don’t forget I had limited means. So, what I did was I would sit down in the library and digest the book. I would give it to my classmates. So, I was the one reading their books. Eh di magaling ako (So, I was smart, after all). (Laughs)

The governor’s daughter

DT: When did you fall in love?
APT: When I was graduating from my Liberal Arts course, I met my first girlfriend at a social action project in Cabanatuan. We were constructing jet type toilets. We were also engaged in mushroom culture. My first girlfriend became my wife, who remains to be my wife today.

She is Marisol Maddela, the daughter of a former governor of Nueva Vizcaya. There is a town in the original province named Maddela, which is now part of Quirino province. They didn’t like me because I was poor but when I became rich, even if they didn’t like me, I learned to like them. (Laughter)

In fact, when my father-in-law had a stroke, we took care of him in our home.

DT: How did a poor guy court a rich girl?
APT: Excuse me, she courted me. (Laughter) She saw that I was loyal. She saw that I was intelligent. She probably saw a good future lay ahead of me. So, we’re together to this day.

DT: How are you as a husband?
APT: I am expressive only when I feel like it. Don’t forget I began poor in life. So, in the early years, I focused on earning good money. My father-in-law gave us a house right in their family compound so we could live near them, but I refused to stay there. We rented an apartment instead.

I would take the jeepney. I know enough about transport and mobility. When I was a student, I would ride the jeepney and I would squeeze myself in that part called estribo, which is outside the jeepney. You hang on for your dear life. So, I know what you are talking about when you refer to difficulty with transportation.

President after nine years

DT: So, you joined a law firm.
APT: My career is quite different. Everything that was no-no for a law student, I did. I broke the so-called “rules.” They said one should not marry if you were still a law student. I married my wife. Don’t work if you’re taking up law. I worked. I did all of these together.

DT: Where did you work?
APT: I worked with the Delgado Brothers. I was the executive assistant of Antonio C. Delgado. When he was the ambassador to the Vatican, I was the president of DelBros or Delgado Brothers. That was why I would go to the Vatican regularly.

DT: You were very young.
APT: Siempre naman. Magaling ako, eh (Of course, I was very smart).

DT: So, how did you rise in your career?
APT: I started in Delgado Brothers as an executive assistant. That was my first job. I became its president in barely nine years because I was not scared of assuming responsibility. While I was studying for my law degree, Ambassador Delgado said, “It’s time for you to transfer to the legal department.” I had a boss, and he really made it difficult for me. Once, the office was involved in a lawsuit. And they were saying my boss was having a difficult time so I volunteered to handle the case. And I was able to win the case for us. My bosses were happy, of course.

It happened that there was a problem with the union. So, I volunteered to handle the case. I was sure I could stop them from doing something. My boss was transferred to another department and I was made to assume the post of head of the legal department.

After a year, I was made head of the General Services. I had such a nice title but my work was something else. If the toilet clogged, I made sure something would be done about it.
Then, they assigned me next to the treasury. I kept accepting the position. As I look back now, I think the old man Delgado was training me in all facets of the business, although he never articulated it.

Once, he asked me to go to the Vatican during the Christmas holidays. Of course, I felt bad because it was Christmas. But I had no choice. His family was there. He hosted dinner. He gave me a Gucci attache case and he said, “You are going back to the Philippines as the new president.” “But why me, sir?” I asked him. And he said that he had trained me for years. “Now, you are ready,” he said. I was trembling.

(The Daily Tribune conversation with Secretary Arthur P. Tugade will continue tomorrow, Monday, 11 February, also in the Lifestyle Section.)


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