He did not have much growing up, but the boy from the slums of Tatalon is now at the helm of an initiative that aims to pave the country’s way into the future.
At a very young age, Art Tugade vowed to improve his life and his family’s. Now, it seems like he’s set his sights on the rest of the country.
Most know him as the current Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOTr). But beyond that, Art Tugade is a successful businessman, a hardworking leader, an inspiring mentor, and a loving father.
His story begins in an unassuming house in Delgado, built above an estero.
The Boy From Tatalon
Art’s family was originally from Claveria, Cagayan. Both of his parents were clerks at the Bureau of Public Works and Highways. They moved to Delgado, in Sampaloc, when Art was in elementary school.
To say that they were living meager lives would be an understatement. If life in Delgado was hard, it only got worse when the Tugades moved to Tatalon. In an interview with a local TV station, he likened it to a “crucifixion.”
The yoke of poverty was hard on their family, and food was scarce. He and his siblings would sometimes harvest kangkong floating in the estero, or try to catch gourami with a motorcycle battery and live wires. A proper meal was considered a luxury, and first dibs was always offered to the sibling who had exams the next day.
Art’s parents struggled to make ends meet, but they made sure that their children understood the value of hard work and honesty.
Never Takes No for an Answer
There was a brilliance in Art Tugade at an early age. Paired with the perseverance to improve himself, he was able to achieve all that he set his mind to.
He was a scholar from Grade 1 up until he graduated law school at San Beda College. Classmates saw early on that Art was the type of person who always wanted to win. He never took ‘no’ for an answer.
Art strove to break through poverty, and he displayed this everyday. Classmates would offer him a ride to school when they saw him walking to class. He relied on public transportation, and is no stranger to clinging on to the backs of full jeepneys in order to make it to class on time.
In another interview as transportation chief, he even claims that he never even learned how to drive. He was one with the commuting public, and he depended on it much like every other Filipino for years.
Breaking Through to Success
Back in San Beda, Art Tugade was the captain of the debate team, and he got very good at arguing. So good, that he once defended himself from losing his scholarship. He even defended his home from being demolished. That was when he knew that he was cut out to be a lawyer.
It was in San Beda Law that he met a young Rodrigo Duterte, who became his lifelong friend.
Armed with his brilliance and perseverance, Art graduated cum laude from law school, while being a working student. He finally broke through, and was on the path to success.
Setting up a Legacy for his Family
After a brief stint of private practice, Art Tugade entered the corporate world. Starting out as an executive assistant, he rose through the ranks and eventually became Chairman and President of several businesses in a variety of industries.
Art eventually established Perry’s Group of Companies. He named this holding company after his son Mark Perry, whom he lost to asthma at a very young age.
This is the legacy that he has set up for his family. Perry’s is currently being run by Art’s children, and it has put together a successful business portfolio in the hotel and travel sectors, as well as engagement in larger industries such as oil and gas.
Rising to the Challenge of Public Service
Due to his achievements, Art Tugade was appointed as President and CEO of Clark Development Corporation (CDC) in 2012.
He used his business acumen to improve the CDC, which was then relying on subsidies. In 2015, they grossed a record-breaking ₱1.55-billion, finally making the CDC profitable for the government.
When an old classmate came calling, Art was quick to answer. He resigned from his post and campaigned for Duterte during the elections. Since the Davao Mayor was last in the running when Art joined his campaign, a cabinet position was the last thing on Tugade’s mind.
When Duterte won, he appointed Art to lead the DOTr. The boy from Tatalon rose to the challenge. In an interview, Tugade said that if he considered it a job, he would’ve resigned long ago. Being the transportation chief has meant being constantly exposed to sarcasm, ridicule, and even suspicion. But Art is convinced that it isn’t a job – it’s an advocacy, to better the lives of Filipinos.
The President’s mandate is simple, but very ambitious – improve the public transportation system en route to a comfortable life for all.
An Integrated Transport System
All the hardships and accomplishments in Art’s life seem to have led to this impossible task of fixing the country’s transportation infrastructure. For Art, fixing the transportation system is personal, as he is deeply familiar with the struggles of the everyday commuter.
He’s been reported to leave before the break of dawn just to get from Alabang to the DOTr head office in Clark in time for the 8:00 a.m. flag ceremony. On most days, he’s fortunate enough to sit inside a car in traffic, but he also takes the MRT, LRT, or bus without any media fanfare.
Yes, traffic is a perennial and seemingly impossible problem, but what we don’t realize is that it is just one part of a bigger picture. The true solution to the transportation problem is an integrated transport system, and Art is at the helm of implementing that master plan.
Sowing the Seeds of a Comfortable Life
The government’s ‘Build Build Build’ program for transportation infrastructure can easily be summed up as the building of roads, ports, runways, and railways to transport Filipinos with ease and speed. It is greatly ambitious, and Art Tugade is the first to acknowledge it.
At 73 years old, Art is simply sowing the seeds of a modern transportation system. He knows that six years is not enough to fix the transportation problem, but it can make for a very good start.
The 30-year roadmap starts with modernization. Art believes that public transport should be a viable option across socioeconomic classes. He wants to change the paradigm in the country that public transportation is only for the poor. His vision is for the public transportation system to be the great equalizer – for it to be used by all – and this will only happen if it’s modern and convenient.
A Promise of a Better Life
Art Tugade came from the slums, and paved his way to success with nothing but his wits and perseverance. He vowed never to return to that situation, and it shows in the work that he does.
Now in the twilight of his years, he’s done enough to ensure a better life for his family – now, he’s doing it for the rest of the Filipino people.
In a corner of the DOTr compound in Clark, a poster hangs on the wall of Art’s office. Written on it is his go-to quote for dealing with criticisms, from Abraham Lincoln:
“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 alright, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
So expect Art Tugade to stick to his guns, to do things his way, until the end – critics be damned.