Leader of Tomorrow - Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

November 18, 2021 – Redge

Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo on cementing Build Build Build, the importance of good mentors, and the long road home.

Rock-solid plans lead to concrete results.
That’s what Anna Mae Lamentillo has discovered after six years as chairman of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) Build Build Build program. “Which would not be possible without the collective effort of 6.5 million Filipinos,” she adds.

She recalls how critics first decried the plan ridiculous, when it was proposed in 2016. “They said it was impossible to decongest EDSA. The vision is unimaginable.” And after her first few months on the job, Anna Mae indeed agreed— it was difficult. “But in 2022 — 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,” she says, “and every
city in Metro Manila will be accessible within a 20 to 30 minute timeframe.”

She has reason to be bold. To date since July 2016, the DPWH has stitched the country together with 29,264 kilometers of roads and 5,950 bridges. It has helped shield the population from severe weather incidents with the completion of 11,340 flood control projects and 222 evacuation centers. It has also helped linked minds here and abroad with the creation of 150,149 classrooms, 214 airport projects, and 451 seaport projects.

While the cost is staggering, the price of not building is higher.

"In 2012, Philippines lost 2.4 billion a day due to traffic,” shares Anna Mae, “six years after, a study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency said the number had gone up to P3.5 billion...a day.” Citing the worsening road congestion in Metro Manila, she reveals that road usage in the metropolis is at about 13.4 million trips per day and could go as high as16.1 million in 17 years.

“I have been complaining about traffic since I was in high school,” recalls the feisty chairman, “now, we are given an immense opportunity to be part of the solution and revolutionize the way Filipinos travel and navigate about.” She stresses that Build Build Build is not just about infrastructure and the economy, but is ”a program that would afford its citizens more control of their time.”

Anna Mae has great respect for her mentor, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar who hired her for the job. She is grateful for this as sometimes, work feels a lot like war. 

Sometimes, it is war.

Great Full Mentorship

“The first time we went to Marawi, I was with Secretary Mark Villar,” recalls Anna Mae, “we were in Marawi to inspect ground zero a few days after Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute were killed. We had to shorten our aerial inspection because a bomb detonated.” Seeing smoke rise from a building across their helicopter’s flight path, Anna Mae remembers her mentor’s expression. “Secretary Mark was calm and prompt. He asked our pilot to fly higher— out of small arms range. Even in the most precarious situation, he has shown leadership.”

That mentor’s mark aside, Anna Mae shares that when Secretary Villar was first appointed in 2016 — a lot were critical. “But after working with him for several years, I had no doubt, he will deliver.” Anna Mae says her boss has repeatedly risen to occasions of leadership in critical moments— despite his life potentially being in danger, from IEDs, death threats, or sheer exhaustion.

For indeed, Anna Mae’s mentor puts a lot of his life into his work. 

“This man was willing to work 18 hours a day to build infrastructure that would allow Filipinos to dream and hope for a better future.” Anna Mae recalls days starting with the secretary as early as 7 a.m. “Some days, he wouldn’t even have the time to dry his hair or have breakfast,” Anna Mae chuckles, “But I’d often notice that before leaving the house, he’d go to the room of Emma Therese – his two-year old daughter, first.” This, despite sometimes clocking in 14-hour days, just to make sure roads open with the
least possible inconvenience to the public.

Anna Mae and senatorial candidate Mark Villar

Of course, dangers lurk not just out in the field but also in board rooms and contracts. For one, before roads can traverse mountains and ford streams, they also have to at first be built...

“Ghost projects, delays, right-of-way issues and death threats were some of the challenges we faced form the start,” Anna Mae says, the memory eliciting pauses in her response, “But we knew that if we are to make genuine change in the way government infrastructure is built, then reforms are a prerequisite.” Spear-headed by the young Secretary Villar, these included drone and satellite technology, geotagging, and a fully-automated Infra Track app. “We’ve actually pretty much shelved excel sheets,” proudly shares Anna Mae, on the oft-used standard of record-keeping.

The pandemic also slowed construction, but only just. “We had to establish new construction guidelines to ensure that we are able to complete projects in the shortest timetable possible without compromising the safety of the construction workers.” The past few months have shown that national infrastructure is still possible despite a health crisis, as demonstrated by the opening of the Tarlac- Pangasinan-La Union Expressway in July. “Now, travel time from Manila to Baguio has been reduced from 6 hours to only 3 hours.” Anna Mae states. If there is one bright spot, she also says that many highly-qualified OFWs have returned since the start of the crisis. “Filipinos have built many cities, expressways, subways, railways, and airports elsewhere. The pandemic gave us the best talent pool one could ever ask for.” And while salaries are less than elsewhere, Build, Build, Build gave OFWs an opportunity to serve their country if they want to.

As well, while it has drawn criticism from some isolated online communities, Anna Mae proudly shares selfies with local roads, bridges and other projects — feats of engineering only often seen abroad. It’s one of the small delights she’s had to let go, after her resignation as Build Build Build chairman.

"Whenever I see children go to school without risking their lives because a new road has been built, I feel very happy. When farmers and fishermen no longer have to take a 74 km detour to reach their market, I’m glad." Letting go of being directly responsible for these projects is a cost, but Anna Mae understands her calling is elsewhere.

“Build, Build, Build projects opened opportunities in the countryside and allowed Filipinos to dream and aspire for a better future,” she laments, “But it was not difficult to let go. Since day one, I committed to giving it all that I got. And I did.”

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Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

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