MANILA - The Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Friday moved its first batch of employees to its new home at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, a bid to jumpstart efforts to decongest traffic in Metro Manila and boost development outside the capital region.
The agency has started its transfer to Cyber City at the freeport zone in Angeles City, roughly one and a half to two hours away from the department's old office at the Columbia Tower in Mandaluyong City.
The main office is a two-story building that will house the offices of the Secretary, undersecretaries, the communications arm and other administrative departments.
The area used to be offices of contact centers, but they moved out to a mall at the city center.
The department's first flag ceremony in the new office was joined by department heads, undersecretaries and other employees.
Around 120 staff members started operations in Clark Friday, among them Secretary Arthur Tugade, who welcomed representatives from the Japan International Cooperation Agency on his first day at the new office.
The department aims to transfer all 700 employees to Clark before the year ends.
Before the start of the transfer, a group of employees protested Tugade's decision, citing the impact of the relocation to low-salaried employees such as health and safety risks, additional expenses, and even a disruption of their family life.
Some of these employees have served the department for around 30 years and have built their homes south of Manila. They filed a collective grievance to the agency's administration office but have yet to hear a response.
"Ilang beses na kami humingi ng tulong. Kaya nagkaroon ng consultation kasi nagreklamo na kami," said Elizabeth Lonzaga of the department's logistics committee.
Per the employees' estimates, annual operating costs at the new office may double. They said Columbia Tower's yearly maintenance cost is at P23 million while maintenance expenses at the Clark office may reach up to P58 million.
The agency disputed this, saying the transfer would increase DOTr's savings due to lower rent and overhead costs. The department may also earn income from leasing out its units at the Columbia Tower.
The DOTr is estimated to earn an additional P9.3 million per year from the transfer.
The agency is offering free shuttle services for employees to Clark, with pickups from Mandaluyong City and Quezon City at 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.
The employees were also given work schedule options, from a flexible office schedule to a four-day work week so they would have an extra day with their families.
Those who refuse to travel to Clark may also transfer to the department's other attached agencies in Metro Manila.
"Ang sabi ko sa inyo, lilipat tayo sa Clark. Kung ayaw niyo, may opsyon kayo. Mahirap man ito sabihin ay mayroong resignation, mayroong retirement. Kung gusto niyo manatili sa Manila, [may] attached agencies ng DOTr. Kung may bakante, [puwedeng lumipat] without loss of seniority," said Tugade.
Tugade first broached the idea of transferring to Clark in August 2016. He was president of the Clark Development Corporation before he was appointed chief of the transportation department.