From his years as president of the Delgado Brothers Inc., a position that he was appointed to only nine years from when he started in the company, Arthur P. Tugade went on to climb further and higher the proverbial ladder of success.
His government responsibilities have also taken him away from golf, a favorite sport which he enjoys playing in various country clubs from Alabang all the way to Puerto Azul
Today, he is the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DoTr), but that is just one position he has held.
There is no placing Tugade in a box in the way he talks and delivers the job. While he is not unique, he stands out perhaps for that relaxed and frank way he relates to people. He is not the somber kind of a top government official whose mind seems to be busy all the time.
Art Tugade is right there, a visible human being you can approach and discuss things with, although he admits that he would much prefer to be left alone when visiting malls with his grandchildren. “Now we have had to stop the practice because people come to greet me and take photos with me, and I don’t mind it, except that my bonding time with my grandchildren is lessened.”
His government responsibilities have also taken him away from golf, a favorite sport which he enjoys playing in various country clubs from Alabang all the way to Puerto Azul. It is an activity that he intends to go back to now that he has become more conscious of his health after a recent bout with pneumonia.
Fully recovered, he is back at the office and performing as he used to, with dedication and sincerity, while insisting on certain practices and values that he had instilled among his staff, especially in the private company, the Perry’s Group, that he founded and successfully built into a nine-company enterprise.
Strict yet courteous staff
Visiting Tugade at his office in the new Clark City in Pampanga gave us a better perspective of the man at work. His style of management is best reflected by how the DoTr headquarters looks, and how his staff behaves. It is one office, we must say, where you feel most welcome.
Although strict with basic regulations, such as ensuring we were properly identified with an ID to show, the staff was courteous and asked us to sit in a receiving corner, while they awaited instructions.
It is a modern office of concrete and glass, allowing the sunlight to come in. In one corner is an airy and large “cage” where we saw two birds who were busy procreating, a tender sight in an office that means no nonsense and insists on efficiency and speedy results.
The Secretary, who used to head the Clark Development Corporation, had spotted the building, designed in the contemporary minimalist style, which had been vacated by a BPO company, and he saw its potential as the national office of the DoTr. Surrounding the main building are edifices of medium size which Tugade converted into offices of the different departments of the agency.
Curly and smiling
What struck me upon our arrival was a landscape of greenery which, to my surprise, consisted of vegetable patches. Scattered all over but in an orderly way were eggplant, sili, okra and ampalaya plants, among others. “It is not my intention to feed the employees of the department,” Tugade clarified. “My primary intention was to create a psyche among Filipinos that if you have a parcel of land, and it is vacant, you can actually draw food from it.
“Before, they took that vegetable row for granted. It was all green and had not born its fruit yet. But when they saw the vegetables, the tomato and the ampalaya, they began asking for seeds.
“When it’s harvest time, all we do is put the vegetables in one container. Anybody can just pick up what they want for their pinakbet (mixed vegetables stewed in fish sauce) at home.
You know how it is with many of us, we tend to get as much as we can, forgetting about the others, but among us here at the Department of Transportation, we have developed a different culture. I am creating a psyche of sharing and caring. Because we should care, we should share.”
Equally heartwarming to me was the presence of gardeners who, at first glance, I realized, belonged to the indigenous groups of Pampanga. With their curly hair, diminutive height and dark complexion, they were obviously our dear fellow Filipinos who, I was told, had been shy at the start. “But I made them feel they are part of the community,” Tugade said.
When we requested that they be called for a photo, they all came from the different parts of the compound where they were busy tending the vegetable plots, trees and the landscape as a whole. Well-dressed and smiling, they joined us in the photo session as their boss, the Secretary, engaged them in conversation that was a combination of pep talk and joking. He asked them to harvest some okra and eggplant which he wanted for his lunch.
Heneral Luna’s portrait
In his office, Tugade is by his lonesome self as he goes over numerous papers and folders, which he said he needed to act on “because I want all this done today because it is Friday.
This is my working table,” he said referring to a large rectangular one which could sit six to eight people.
Obviously a conference room for a small group of people, it is next to the main office of Tugade where one immediately notices a clean wooden table, with nothing on top of it. On one wall is a large shelf that contains trophies, but occupying a place of honor is the image of the Infant Jesus or Sto. Niño. “All these trophies and plaques remind me that I need to do better, but in the middle of them all is our Lord Jesus, so I can thank Him for his many blessings, and for guiding us in our work,” Tugade said.
Prominently displayed on one wall is the picture of the hero, Antonio Luna. I am not certain if that was really Antonio Luna, the general, or the actor who portrayed him in the movie Heneral Luna. I noticed, too, that there was not one picture of Tugade’s boss, President Duterte.
On the other side is a poster, a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s statement: “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how — the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
Not too far from his table are models of a fast train and a subway, obviously to inspire him, or better yet, to remind him of the deadlines he had set for himself in attaining connectivity and mobility for the Filipino people.
Obviously, Tugade is a man that had been scarred by the many battles of his life, but it is equally clear that he had won many of them, especially those that mattered and have brought him to where he is today.
Below are more excerpts of our conversation with Secretary Arthur P. Tugade:
DT: Tell us about your accomplishments at the Clark Development Corp.
APT: I was there for three years. You know what I always take pride in? The structure, and not the earnings. When I came in, it was in the red. But when I left it, it earned 700 million in three years. In one year, I was able to introduce reforms or changes.
How did this happen? Because I had people, and how did I change the people? Because I had culture, values and ways of doing things. I changed that. Since their work ethic and culture had changed, as well as their commitment, what happened automatically was culture change. When there is a culture change, the result of the work changes. Since there was a culture of honesty, the investors began to trust us. The staff began to smile, and they would not leave unless they had performed their obligations for the day.
When there was a change in values and culture, in the way of doing things, this became the norm, rather than the exception. What followed was increased performance.
DT: How was it like working for the government for the first time?
APT: I was shocked. What I did was to inject the values I learned in the private sector. Binago ko (I introduced changes). Look at my office, it is very clean. Visit our comfort rooms, they are equally clean. Why? Because anybody who comes here, whether he is our own employee, or he is a citizen who needs something, deserves a clean environment.
Look at all these papers on my working table. Before I leave, the table would have been cleared. I would have attended to each paper, read them and recommended what is needed, or signed if there is a need for my signature. Between meetings, I read them.
My requirement in the office is by Friday, all papers should have been given appropriate action. If I need to, I stay up to past eight o’clock in the evening.
DT: I suppose this was how you worked in the private sector.
APT: How I was doing things in my private company before, is how I do things at the DoTr now. You should see how we conduct our flag-raising ceremonies. We sing a capella, we don’t use a recording. Those who do not sing and those who arrive late get it from me. They used to hate me, but now they understand why I would use an expletive.
If you go around now, the people in DoTr are smiling. Citizens are not afraid of the government personnel.
I have also effected an extensive crackdown on corruption. I post their faces on the door. I really shame them. I showed them that I mean business. No paper should be left undone by Friday.
No wonder that during my tenure with Clark, it earned money in one year. Within a year, more businessmen came. I would declare dividends that, of course, went to the coffers of the government.
DT: How did you succeed in your private enterprises, the Perry’s Group?
APT: They became successful because of culture. I had buttons before. It had such sayings as “Tang Ina ang Tamad (roughly translated “The lazy one is an SOB).” Before, you would read in posters “Bawal ang Tamad (Being Lazy is prohibited).” I didn’t think that was a strong message. I refused to use it. So, I used “Tang-ina ang tamad.” What could be more expressive than saying that? That’s my style.
Now, here at the DoTr, we have buttons, too. And some of them have words like “Ayaw ko ng corrupt (I don’t like the corrupt);” “Hindi ako corrupt (I am not corrupt);” “Isumbong ang corrupt (Report the corrupt)” and “Ipakulong ang corrupt (Put the corrupt to jail).”
One of my favorite sayings is, “Give me 5,000 people who do not share with me my value, my culture and my ways of doing things, and I will be uncomfortable. But give me five people who share my culture, my way of doing things, and I will stay with the five, because with them, I can conquer the world. While with the 5,000, nothing is certain.
No pending matter
DT: So, where is your working table, where is your office?
APT: The way I maintain my office tells you a lot. Wala akong pending. They are all in my other table where I read them. In government, many employees and officials want to show that they have lots of papers on their tables. They use them as props.
Do you see a single picture of Duterte here? None, because he does not like it. And I follow him. “Don’t put my picture on the wall. Instead, hang the picture of a hero,” he told us.
So, there’s my hero, Antonio Luna. So, there’s Artikulo Uno. Or Article One, which states, “All who refuse to follow his orders shall be executed without the benefit of a trial in a military court.”
I may not have the picture of the President of the Philippines, but all the books on the President and his program of government are in my office.
DT: What is your centerpiece project?
APT: All of them. But particularly subways and trains. I have done it in the airports.
Sealed with money
DT: Let’s talk about your family. I understand that each of your children represents a milestone in your life.
APT: Oo naman. My wife and I have five children. The first one’s name is Pilar Luz Barie. Pilar is the name of the mother of my wife. Luz is the name of my mother. So, these are the two lolas (grandmothers). And Barie, because she was conceived when I took the bar exams. My feeling was if I didn’t make it, her name would be an ignominy so I should really do my best to pass the exam. By adding that name, I created a challenge for myself. Which shows my character in my work. I always challenge myself, whether it is a shortened timeline or a difficult deadline. That has always been my style.
My second child, Mark Perry, which translates to “markadong pera” (imprinted or sealed with money). He was born when I was starting to earn good money because I was already a lawyer and I had been rising in Delgado Brothers. We used to live in a rented house, but by the time he was born, we could already own a house. So, all these were proofs of my having money.
Then came Paul Louie Tugade. Paul is in honor of Pope Paul VI because that was when he came to the Philippines. Louie came from my first travel in the United States, specifically in Saint Louis, Missouri, where I had a speaking engagement. I was a Rotary Exchange scholar. I was a young professional, and because of that first international exposure, I was getting noticed.
Then came Jose Arturo Tugade. We call him Jay-Art. That was the time of the television series, Dynasty, where one of the characters had a similar name. Instead, it stood for Jose Arturo. Jose came from the name Jose Roberto, the former president of DelBros. Jose Baltazar was the other president. I was made president after them. At the same time, I already wanted a junior. But I didn’t want to give my son my complete name because I am a proud person. My feeling was if I gave him my exact name, he might have a difficult time following in my footsteps.
My fifth child is Finina Marie. Marie is from Maria Soledad, her mother’s name. Finina is an Italian word which means “last” or “final.” So, that meant I was not going to have another child anymore.
Why always two names? To emphasize their belongingness. But on the matter of practicality, I made sure they would not have names similar to many Filipinos. I would not want them to experience what I went through, having to produce affidavits regarding my name. Even the way I gave names to my children shows my persona.
DT: How are you as a father?
APT: I have one regret. My son died. Where am I coming from when I am insisting on the modernization program? My son died of asthma. I tell myself I took his illness for granted. But even if I had not given him all the time in the world, the fact is he died of asthma. That’s why I don’t like anything that emits smoke. That’s why I hate any form of transportation that pollutes the air and causes asthma. If, for some reason, the person is not given sufficient attention and medication, they could die.
DT: Why did you name your business as Perry’s Group?
APT: It is in honor of my son Mark Perry, whose complete name connotes the abundance of “pera” or money. These companies now benefit Perry’s siblings who are alive. Because of what happened to Perry, I paid more attention to my children. That’s why their battlecry is the name of their eldest brother Perry. And our company became successful. Being predeceased by one’s son is one of life’s greatest tragedies, but with this company, we honor his memory and his name brings us success.
DT: How are you as a father? Are you strict?
APT: No, I am not. Number one, I share with them the story of my life. Secondly, I am strict where being strict is demanded. When they were kids, and I would come home in a suit, they would surprise me by dousing me with water, and my suit would get wet. I would play with them. I was childlike in their presence so I could relate to them, but I was not childish.
DT: How are you as a husband?
APT: Siempre, a regular kind of husband. When a wife has demands, you cannot give everything to her. Because I, too, have my requirements and demands. So, that has to be balanced. Wives will always have a reason or basis for getting jealous. So, a husband should know how to deal with the situation.
How am I as a husband? I try to maintain balance. I am a trapeze walker. If you do not balance well, you could fall. That is why I am very happy that for 46 years, my wife and I have been together.
DT: How were you discovered by the President?
APT: We were classmates in law school. That is why he would tell people that even then, I was rich already. What he means is I was a working student. I was working at the Hilton. My office was at the Hilton. They would eat there and I would just sign for what we ate. My classmates thought I was rich. But those who had seen me in my earlier days knew that I came from a simple family.
DT: So, those were your days in law school, when you worked for the Delgados. But before that, I would suppose you were having a hard time.
APT: Yes, it was a difficult life. I would walk to school. Or they would pick me up in our Tatalon home. My classmates saw how poor we were. One of my classmates is now in the Supreme Court, Justice Noel Tijam. Also Supreme Court Associate Justice Bogie or Bienvenido Reyes.
DT: Is it true that someone spent for your toga?
APT: Yes, my classmate, Mariano Nalupta, paid for the rental of my toga. He knew that one had to pay for its use, and he also knew my financial capability at that time, so he volunteered to pay it for me. He eventually became a House representative and vice governor of Ilocos.
Now that he is gone, I do my best to help his family. They call me Tito. Their father helped me, so I must also help them in turn. Why? As one of our buttons says, “Tulong ko, ituloy mo (What help I did, you pass it on).” So, it’s just payback time on my part.
DT: Have you been paying back San Beda, too?
APT: Yes, of course. As I was saying, it is payback time. It is my way of actualizing another favorite mantra of mine, “Tulong sayo, ituloy mo (Whatever help you receive, pay it forward).” The latest was I donated a world-class theater-auditorium to San Beda. It is the Tugade auditorium, with 350 seats. This was only last year.
Last gift to his father
DT: How does it feel to have made it?
APT: Ang sarap (It feels good). Why? You know it in your heart you have arrived. Before, I wasn’t eating good food. Now that I have money, I eat what is delicious. I am diabetic now, but I tell myself, before I wasn’t eating because I didn’t have money, but now that I have money and I can eat anything I want, you ask me how it feels? My answer is it feels good.
But I always remind myself I should pay forward. That is what is meant by one of the buttons that we distribute in our family company, Tulong ko, ituloy mo.
And why does it feel good? Because I earned it through hard work and honesty, and I continue to be honest.
DT: Did your parents see your success?
APT: That is what always makes me cry, the thought of my parents. When I deliver speeches in my home province, Cagayan, I always start by recalling the hardship I went through in my youth. I share my memories of my father and mother and wish that they were with me so they would see for themselves how far I have gone in life.
What they saw was the beginning of my career growth, my presidency in a private company, and my starting my own company, the Perry’s Group. They were very proud of me.
There is just one unforgettable story that took place when I was in the United States and my family and I were visiting them, for they were then living with a sibling of mine. My father said, “Leave behind your beautiful jacket with me. I like it so much.” It was my favorite leather jacket, one I bought in Mexico and truly cherished, but because he asked for it, I gave it to him gladly and with all my heart. As soon as we arrived home in the Philippines, we got a call. We were informed that my father had an aneurism and had passed on. On the same day, I flew back to the United States of America. Can you imagine if I had not given to him the jacket that he asked for me to leave behind? Can you imagine how happy I am each time I recall that I had given him what he asked for? I am glad that I gave to him the last thing that he asked of me. I am fortunate, God has been good to me.
DT: What did you learn from your parents?
APT: Humility, hard work and love for their fellowmen. Even if we had little means, and we were squatting on a Delgado property in Sto. Domingo and lived in a tiny house, they welcomed our relatives from the provinces who arrived. We, their children, felt ill at ease about the situation because we were living in a cramped space, but those were our parents.
They earned little as government clerks, not even enough to feed us to our hearts’ content and make life comfortable for us, but they welcomed anyone from the province who stayed with us.
Be childlike always
DT: So, what is your advice to our young people?
APT: Number one, stay young. Why do you stay young? So you can maintain the innocence of the young. It is true what they say, that the future of this country is in the hands of our youth. They have the innocence that allows them to look forward to the future. But as you stay young, be mature and be responsive.
Love your parents, love the flag and love your fellowmen.
Number two, if you are going through hard times today, just remember that one’s hardship is never an obstacle, but instead is the golden opportunity for you to grow. I came from a poor family, I started poor in life, but if I went into self-pity, I would not be facing you today. But I considered the odds of poverty as my golden challenge to improve my life. And I have succeeded. If I can do it, you can do it.
Number three, have values. Don’t be lazy. Why? Because putang-ina ang tamad (The lazy one is an SOB.)
Number four, be honest, because honesty is the key to success. Be honest even if others are not, even if others cannot, even if others will not. Just be honest.
Then, be the number one. And then, there’s always hope. This is about my life, pare. There will always be hope, as there will always be a dream.
DT: How are you and the President?
APT: You know, he and I were classmates in law school. I have much respect for him because I can see how he lives and practices his patriotism. I can see in the way he thinks, in his way of life, and in his decision-making that he loves the Filipino. If there is one true Filipino today, it is he. If there is one true person, that would be he.
How am I with the President? I look up to him with hope for this country. I look at him only with my heart. I look at him with the faith of a person who believes that we should all join hands to help him in his job because if he succeeds, this man who is always for the people, his success will always be for all of us, Filipinos.