Making his own Mark

After 42-year old Mark Villar served as Representative of the Lone District of Las Pinas from 2010 to 2016, he wasn’t sure yet what to do next — whether he would run for a higher public office or perhaps go back to helping in the family empire.

But fate had it all planned.

Villar, the second son of tycoon Manuel B. VIllar, Jr. was called to serve in President Duterte’s Cabinet as Public Works and HIghways Secretary. After all, it’s no secret that the Villars are a staunch supporter of the mayor-turned-president.

But Mark himself was surprised. “I really didn’t expect it.”

Nevertheless, he  accepted the challenge, knowing all along it wouldn’t be an easy task.

Mark, though a two-termer member of the House of Representatives, isn’t new to politics but he knew that being Cabinet Secretary would be a totally different ballgame. Everyone knew that working inside the bureaucracy wouldn’t be easy and Mark himself was aware of that.

But he was armed with a diverse educational background. He obtained his Masters of Business Administration at the University of Chicago and his Bachelor of Science in Political Science, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lessons from dad

More than the academic armory, he always kept the lessons and guidance from his father in mind.

“He taught us that we should never fear failure as long as we do our best. He inspired us to take on challenges. He says we should never let fear intimidate us or define us,” says Mark.

DPWH Sec. Mark Villar takes a selfie with construction workers in the recently completed Kalayaan Bridge which connects Taguig and Pasig.

He knew that being a Cabinet Secretary would perhaps be one of his biggest challenges in life.

“I knew it would be a very challenging job and very intimidating,” he says. But he kept his father’s words in mind.

This, Mark said, gave him and his siblings — older brother Manuel Paolo and younger sister Camille — the grit and courage to take on challenges that came their way.

Thus, on August 1, 2016, Mark became the youngest Cabinet member of President Duterte and the 43rd head of the 118-year old Department of Public Works and Highways.

The young Villar is proud of his success as the man at the helm of the department.

“Like most of us in government, we really want to raise the standard  of living in the Philippines…I am quite satisfied with what we’ve done. If you look at the numbers, we’ve completed three times more than any other administration. I am quite happy about it,” he says.

Data supplied by his department showed that from 2016 to 2020, the DPWH has completed P2.5 trillion worth of projects versus the P820 million accomplished from 2011 to 2015.

Infrastructure spending likewise grew to 5.4 percent in 2019 or before COVID-19 struck from 4.9 percent in 2018.

In terms of projects, DPWH has built more than 5,000 bridges and 26,000 kilometers of roads.

What’s good about being DPWH Secretary, he says, is that you could actually see–and walk on– the accomplishments of the department.

Even his father knows this well.

“I am very proud of Mark. He has built so many roads and bridges,” Manny Villar tells Property Report.

These are projects that even the younger and succeeding generations would benefit from.

“Even my daughter,” says Mark, beaming with pride, when talking about his six-year old daughter.

Golden age of infrastructure

Mark strongly believes in the power of infrastructure–enabling economic growth, moving goods and services, its multiplier effect on the economy, job creation and the potential to build the legacy of a nation.

“While this may be a very challenging job, I always knew the power of infrastructure, of getting us to where we want to be. That’s what drives me,” he says.

As DPWH Secretary, Mark instituted reforms in the department. He  put in place an efficient system of monitoring the project, a project manager software to measure performance of every district engineer.

This increased transparency and made people accountable, he says.

“It’s always the monitoring that really does it. This was done with the help of technology. You will be foolish not to use technology. If you look at every successful company, whether retail or not, they have a very efficient IT system,” he says.

He also makes sure to regularly go on site visits.

And while the Philippines still has yet to see the golden age of infrastructure, Mark believes, “we are definitely well on our way there.”

What’s next?

Mark believes that public service is never done but he knows that as the Duterte administration approaches the end of its term, his stint as DPWH Secretary will also soon come to end.

What’s next for him? He leaves it to fate.

“You never know where fate is going to take you.  I’ll see what my options  are but destiny has a funny way of taking you to places you don’t know,” he says. For now, he will strive to complete as many projects as possible and on Father’s Day, enjoy the time with his daughter Emma and wife, Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar.