Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most troublesome aspects of life that everyone living in the metro can gripe about would be the traffic. Maybe you haven’t given it much attention now, especially if you’ve been staying indoors during the past few months. Or maybe you’ve still suffered anyway but have gotten too used to it for you to seriously pay it any mind. If given the chance, perhaps you’ll offer a throwaway thought: “That’s a problem for others to solve in the future.”
But for some key individuals looking to unlock the potential of this country, the future is something that has to be built upon now, no matter what the circumstances are. Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo, the millennial-aged chairman of the Build Build Build committee, is one such person.
In 2016, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) appointed Lamentillo, then a student at the University of the Philippines College of Law, to head the centerpiece project of the Duterte administration: the Build Build Build (BBB) Program. The project, which aims to usher in the golden age of infrastructure in the Philippines, has spent the last half of a decade gaining ground on what many perceive as the country’s weakest aspect of economic development.
However, the recent ongoing pandemic has set some unprecedented challenges to face. Lamentillo, who remains steadfast in her personal ambitions for the Philippines, shares with CHiNOY TV her thoughts and experiences on working for Build Build Build during these troubling times:
Previously, many have known you to be something of an achiever, studying as a student while working in government. You’re now no longer a student. How do you feel about your responsibilities now?
Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo: When I was still in law school — my day could start as early as 12:01 a.m., when the DPWH opens a new road, bridge, or flood-control project. After work, I head to UP Diliman for night classes, which would last until 9 p.m. My weekends are usually spent studying or working. I was part of the COVID-19 batch. Responsibilities pre-pandemic and post-pandemic are very different.
Now that we are restarting the economy, it becomes more important to work harder, to set a good example, to prove that the construction protocols put in place are effective. We wanted to ensure that projects are delivered on time without compromising the safety of the 1.6 million construction workers involved in Build, Build, Build.
The first major challenge was to deliver the complete alignment of the country’s first truck graded expressway, the NLEX Harbor Link Project, by June. When we were able to achieve that — we shifted our efforts to ensuring that Build Build Build is able to create as many jobs as possible.
You tested positive for COVID-19 last July — it must have been both stressful and worrying. How do you feel this impacted your work?
My first exposure was at an inspection of NLEX Harbor Link prior to the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine. It was difficult. I think one of the biggest decisions was to move out of the family house and live in isolation. We knew the risks we were taking by accepting a job in government. I’ve had COVID, but I think the more difficult part was to wait for the results of people you had exposure with and hope they didn’t get it.
What keeps you going during these trying times? Do you think that you have the same motivations that you had pre-pandemic?
In 2012, the Philippines lost 2.4 billion a day due to traffic. Six years after, a study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency said the number had gone up to P3.5 billion a day due to the worsening road congestion in Metro Manila. Now, road usage in the metropolis is at about 13.4 million trips per day and could go as high as 16.1 million in 17 years.
I have been complaining about traffic since I was in high school. Now, we are given an immense opportunity to be a part of the solution and revolutionize the way Filipinos travel and navigate about. Build Build Build is not just only an infrastructure and an economic solution. It is a program that would afford its citizens more control of their time.
When we started in 2016 — critics told us it was impossible to decongest EDSA. The vision is unimaginable. Few months on the job — we knew it was difficult. But in 2022, we are confident the Build Build Build team will turn the EDSA Decongestion Program into a reality. Travel time from NLEX to SLEX will be reduced from 2 hours to only 30 minutes. Every city in Metro Manila will be accessible within a 20 to 30-minute timeframe. This will be part of the new normal.
How do you spend your days now?
The Build Build Build team was the first one to seek an exemption from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to re-start big-ticket projects. We created a bubble inside the construction site. Workers were required to do an RT-PCR test, a rapid test, or undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine prior to entry. Workers are not allowed to go home until the entire project is completed. The use of personal protective equipment became mandatory. There were very different construction protocols implemented pre- and post-pandemic.
This pandemic has brought in a lot of changes. What tips do you have for those struggling to adapt?
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken status quo and has disrupted the way we live within just a few weeks. What we once considered to be the most mundane activities two months back — study sessions, dinner dates, coffee meet-ups — are now prohibited, and basic human conduct — walking, driving, and even holding hands — are regulated.
But more than ever, human collectivism is key. We must come to the table knowing that there is no barangay, city, province, government, or country that can solve the COVID-19 crisis alone. We ought to work together collectively and purposively — regardless of race, ethnicity, political affiliation, and religion — in finding a solution to a threat that has shaken our very definition of civilization.
As a millennial, you belong to a more technologically adept generation. The pandemic has brought an acceleration to continued digitalization and innovation. What impacts do you think this has on the Build Build Build campaign?
We are incorporating more technology into the system. For instance, DPWH has fully migrated into a fully automated new monitoring system — the Infra-track App, which would utilize a built-in geotagging feature, satellite technology, and drone monitoring.
Now, DPWH is able to detect ghost projects in real-time. The new application plots photos inputted into the system for monitoring in the exact geographic coordinates where they were taken.
What are the most meaningful experiences that you’ve had in 2020?
At the onset of 2020, there was an influx of OFWs coming in. Thousands lost their jobs. At its peak, there were about 17,000 OFWs coming home every week. Build Build Build was the first [project] to create a bubble. There were many sacrifices on the ground. Critics said that the COVID-19 regulations imposed on construction sites were too strict. Construction workers are not able to go home until the project is completed.
I’m just happy to be working for someone like Secretary Mark Villar who isn’t afraid to make unpopular decisions. Everyone in the team knew we couldn’t afford another lockdown. The infrastructure projects needed to be delivered as scheduled.
What personal goals have you achieved in 2020?
Since July 2016, we have built 26,494 km of roads, 5,555 bridges, 10,376 flood control projects, 144,925 classrooms, and 170 evacuation centers.
What goals do you have for the future?
By 2022, the 90-year-old EDSA will be back to its original 1930 form, Filipinos will not have to debate about Metro Manila’s “true midpoint,” and every city in Metro Manila can be accessed within a 20 to 30-minute timeframe.
To young Filipino-Chinese women who hope to pursue the same path, what advice can you share?
At times, what is most important is grit — the strength and resolve to continue a purpose, regardless of circumstance. My mentor has always told me — it is easy to come to work when you’re a winner. But it is more important to show up and try harder when things do not go as planned.
What do you value the most now?
The economy of the Philippines is the world’s 28th largest economy by GDP (Purchasing Power Parity) according to the 2018 estimate of the International Monetary Fund. Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines recorded a GDP (PPP) of $956 billion in 2018. If the Philippines is able to maintain its projected GDP growth of 6.5% in the next decade, then the tiger cub economy might well be part of the trillion-dollar club, which currently includes the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, United Kingdom, France, Mexico, Italy, Turkey, Korea, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.
I dream of the Philippines achieving its full potential.