Tribute to Guillermo ‘Gem’ Carague

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I was reminded of paying a tribute to former Secretary of the Department of Budget & Management (DBM) and Chairman of the Commission on Audit (CoA) Guillermo “Gem” N. Carague when I was fixing my files and came across an old brochure of TCGI Engineers, “an independent employee-owned consulting firm founded in 1973.”

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TCGI had been involved in many prestigious projects in both government and the private sector.

One of the consulting work (detailed engineering design) TCGI did for the Department of Public Works & Highways (DWPH) was the Sucat Road widening in Parañaque City, Metro Manila. Not many people know that the person responsible for widening of this vital 9.0 km national highway that links the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) to Roxas Blvd.-Cavite Expressway (Cavitex) is the quiet former DBM Secretary.

There are a number of major public works projects in Metro Manila and Luzon that the erstwhile Budget Secretary proposed during the term of President Corazon C. Aquino. In fact, if not for these initiatives of Gem Carague, perhaps there wouldn’t have been much accomplishment in major public infra projects under the Cory Aquino administration.

Public infra projects
Every time we pass (and we often do) Dr. Arcadio Santos Avenue, better known as Sucat Road, in Parañaque, I often  think of and thank my good friend  Gem Carague for one of the better national roads in the metropolis. When my family and I pass Sucat Road, I would tell my children: “Let us thank Tito Gem for this wonderful road we are passing.”

When he was DBM Secretary, Mr. Carague talked to DPWH Secretary Juanito Ferrer in the late 1980s to widen the narrow Sucat Road from two lanes to the present six lanes. Thus, the road capacity was tripled!

Today, tens of thousands of vehicles pass here from Monday to Saturday. When Sucat Road was widened, the property owners were also happy because the value of their land and buildings appreciated significantly.

(We can only wish that the congested four-lane Alabang-Zapote Road in Muntinlupa and Las Piñas were also included in the DPWH road-widening like the Dr. A. Santos (Sucat) Avenue. I asked Gem Carague why he did not include the Alabang-Zapote Road when it was only about one kilometer away from his house in BF Homes. He simply shrugged perhaps saying he could only do so much since he was not the DPWH Secretary.)

Another major public works project in Metro Manila that he initiated in 1989 were the flyovers along EDSA from Makati to Quezon City for the continuous flow of vehicles, eliminating the signal lights at the intersections. It is simply amazing that he was the one who thought of the flyovers when he was the Budget Secretary and not the DPWH.

In the early 1990s, the national government built a viaduct crossing the Pasig River from Sta. Ana (coming from Quirino Ave.) to the Old Sta. Mesa in Manila. Then DPWH Secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus would refer to the public infra project as the “Carague Bridge” because it was Gem who conceptualized connecting these two areas in Manila.

In Central Luzon, the Magalang-Concepcion national highway from Magalang, Pampanga to Concepcion, Tarlac was constructed fortuitously in time for the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in June1991. It is parallel to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and going under the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) in Concepcion and connecting to the MacArthur Highway (Manila North Road).

The story goes that then President Cory Aquino and Secretary Carague were riding a helicopter that flew over the Concepcion-Magalang area. Gem Carague pointed to the President Aquino the carabao trail that could be developed into a national highway  parallel to NLEX. The Chief Executive immediately approved her Budget Secretary’s road proposal and it was constructed just in time as Mt. Pinatubo erupted in mid-1991.

Mt. Pinatubo Rehabilitation
The 1991 Mt. Pinatubo episode in the Philippines was the world’s “second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century” (Wikipedia).

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were adversely affected and thousands had to be housed in government relocation centers.

President Aquino appointed her taciturn DBM Secretary as Chairman of the Mt. Pinatubo Rehabilitation Commission to oversee their relocation.

Several relocation centers were built in Pampanga and Tarlac that included the indigenous Aetas who were displaced by the eruption. As the person in charge, Gem Carague constructed both the houses for their relocation and also provided for livelihood projects, particularly the Technology & Resource Center (TLRC) to assist the evacuees. These areas have now developed into townships that don’t look like your typical evacuation center.

I personally visited the two relocation sites at Pandacaqui, Pampanga and Capas, Tarlac in late 1999 and found them impressive, especially the site development and buildings in Pandacaqui. Ironically, they were criticized for being “too good for poor people.” The roads, center islands and sidewalks there were better built than the ones found in subdivisions in Metro Manila and other regional centers. The multi-purpose and barangay buildings and the park and trees planted were truly very impressive.

The highlight of Gem Carague’s work with the Mt. Pinatubo rehabilitation was that the presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Pampanga and Tarlac eventually dissipated with the housing and livelihood projects given to evacuees. Many of the beneficiaries were members of the NPA who returned to live as normal citizens
Commander Dante of the NPA later surrendered – without a single shot fired – after his meetings with Gem Carague where they discussed the issues and needs of the poor people. Both Dante and Gem are from Tarlac. The national government gave the needed financial and material assistance to Commander Dante and his future cooperative.

With his usual perspicacity, Gem shared his insight that the Mt. Pinatubo eruption turned out to be “a blessing in disguise” because it virtually wiped out the NPA in Pampanga and Tarlac.

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1 Comment

  1. Correction: It is in Pandacan and NOT Sta,Ana, both in Manila, where the viaduct starts from Quirino Avenue. The parallel road to NLEX actually spans from Concepcion, Tarlac, to Mexico, Pampanga. From Mexico, the SM Mall and Robinsons Mall in San Fernando, Pampanga, is only seven kms,.away!