It took a presidential helicopter trip to a Coldplay concert for the government to admit what we had all known for a long time already: Traffic is dangerous.
When British band Coldplay visited the Philippines for a concert at the Philippine Arena recently, excitement was high among fans. Over 50,000 of them made the trip to the sold-out gig at the largest indoor arena in the world, and most did so by car.
A few lucky VIPs didn’t have to put up with being stuck in a huge metal avalanche, and traveled to the event by helicopter. Among them was the president of the Philippines, Bongbong Marcos. Pictures and videos of his helicopter arriving and leaving set the Internet alight and left more than a few people not best pleased.
The Presidential Communications Office confirmed Marcos’s attendance at the show, but didn’t comment on his mode of transportation. That job fell to the Presidential Security Command—specifically PSC commander MGen. Nelson Morales, who published a statement on Facebook saying his organization recognized the traffic as a potential threat to the president and opted to get him there by chopper instead.
Unsurprisingly, his words drew some flak and did little to calm upset concertgoers who had been stuck in traffic for hours. He’s the wrong guy to be upset with, though, as all he did was do his job, and that’s to keep the head of state safe in a country where very real threats to such a person exist.
His wording was a little unfortunate as the influx of fans was hardly unprecedented, and Carmageddon happens every single time there is a concert at the arena (as we experienced ourselves during a Blackpink concert), but other than that, he’s not the one to be upset with.
Leaving aside the discussion of whether a president should be using a government helicopter to fly to a concert that he seemingly attended as a private individual (or if his Singapore trip to watch Formula 1 was acceptable), this incident has at the very least officially confirmed that traffic in the Philippines—and in particular being stuck in it for hours—is indeed dangerous.
Normal people—as in those without access to a helicopter, presidential motorcade, or at least some rent-a-cops—have known this painful truth for many years, and it’s not just the risk of assassination they’re worried about.
I’ve lost count of how many times I have seen ambulances stuck in traffic with lights and sirens blaring, and the chances of survival for the ill passenger onboard diminishing by the minute.
And that’s before we even look at the many collisions and all the other health impacts that heavy traffic and the pollution it generates are causing. Traffic in the Philippines can, and does, kill thousands of people every year, in many different and often avoidable ways.
In a better world, there would be a train station right next to the Philippine Arena, and most people would arrive by public transport, just as music fans in other big cities like London, Munich, or New York do all the time.
It also wouldn’t just be the hoi polloi using public transportation, but also VIPs and politicians, as happens in many other countries. Back in 2010, then UK prime minister David Cameron told his ministers to use the London Tube to get to work instead of ministerial cars, and Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen can often be seen cycling to her office.
While it’s nice that the powers-that-be are now seemingly acknowledging the dangers of traffic to human life, we need to take a hard look at the Philippine Arena and the way it is run in search of a solution.
There clearly is no functioning traffic management plan in place for events like this, as we saw firsthand when we got stuck there for hours. Chances are that the venue in its current form would not have received planning permission in many other countries as the traffic issues should have been obvious from the start.
Owners and organizers owe it to music fans who spend their hard-earned money on tickets to address this issue with urgency. So that at least until decent public transport is in place, we can all drive there without getting stuck in traffic for hours—presidents included.