January 22, 2024
SINGAPORE – The Philippines’ music-loving President is drawing flak online for using a government helicopter to bypass the capital’s horrendous traffic – ranked as the world’s worst – to see a concert of popular rock band Coldplay on Jan 19.
Most have vented their frustrations over how awful traffic is around metropolitan Manila – a sprawling metropolis of 16 cities densely packed with over 13 million people – and how President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and his government seem oblivious to it.
Metro Manila had the worst traffic among 387 cities in 55 countries in an index regularly released by navigation and mapping firm TomTom.
It takes about 25 minutes and 30 seconds to travel 10km in Metro Manila, according to the index. By comparison, travelling the same distance in Kansas City in the United States takes just 8 minutes and 40 seconds.
That fact did not slip past Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
“We’ve seen some traffic, but I think you’re No. 1 in the world,” he said in between songs.
“So, thank you, thank you for making the effort to pull through all of that b***t to be here.”
Netizens were quick to point out that one person who did not have to put in much effort to get to the concert was Mr Marcos.
Some took Martin’s off-the-cuff comment as casting shade on the President, but he was seen in a TikTok video smiling and taking it all in good humour.
The concert venue is about 30km north of the capital Manila, but concertgoers usually have to leave their homes at least three hours before the event starts, especially if a very popular artist is performing.
Some posted online saying that they had to leave by noon for a concert that was not scheduled to start till at least 7pm.
That was not the case for Mr Marcos.
Videos posted online showed him and his wife, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, disembarking from the presidential helicopter that landed on an open field near the concert venue. His security detail was on another helicopter. There were two other helicopters on the field, but it was not clear whether those were part of his entourage.
Most said Mr Marcos should have gone to the concert on his own account instead of using a government aircraft issued to him for his official duties.
“Mind you, there was more than just one helicopter. No wonder my taxes are so high, for his heli and tix,” said Xhymari on social media platform X.
“I, a regular Filipino taxpayer in the Philippines, go through heavy traffic as I ride a shuttle, a jeep and sometimes a taxi in my daily commute, while our country’s president BBM rides a helicopter using my tax money to easily get to where he wants/needs to be,” said Anonymous Galore, another X user, referring to Mr Marcos by his nickname, Bongbong Marcos.
Major-General Nelson Morales, who heads the presidential security detail, defended Mr Marcos’ use of the presidential helicopter.
He said in a statement that the concert venue “experienced an unprecedented influx of 40,000 individuals eagerly attending a concert, resulting in unforeseen traffic complications along the route”.
“Recognising that this traffic situation posed a potential threat to the security of our President, the PSG (Presidential Security Group) took decisive action by opting for the presidential chopper,” he added.
He said this “ensured the safety of our leader but also exemplified our commitment to prioritising security in the face of unexpected challenges”.
Mr Marcos also had his share of online defenders.
“What were you expecting? He takes a tricycle?” said X user DaisyM38241.
Chantal, also posting on X, said: “A president of every country is an important person. Safety is their top priority because they’re leading a whole nation and a lot of people are dependent on them, also that’s faster transportation for their scheds.”
But government critic and activist Renato Reyes told the online news site Rappler that Mr Marcos’ use of a helicopter to go to a concert was a “grave insult to millions of Filipino commuters”, as the Philippines lacks a “progressive and pro-people” mass transportation system.
“A president who takes a chopper to watch a concert amid terrible traffic and a mass transport crisis will not sympathise with jeepney drivers, operators and commuters. This is the state of transportation in the Philippines today,” he said.