Panelo suggests choppers for emergency patients in traffic-logged cities

Pia Ranada
Panelo suggests choppers for emergency patients in traffic-logged cities

Darren Langit/Rappler

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo says the death of patients in ambulances caught in heavy traffic proves the need for emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – What can government do about people dying in ambulances because of Metro Manila’s infamous traffic jams? Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo suggested the use of choppers to airlift patients.

On Tuesday, September 10, Panelo said government hospitals can ask the Philippine military to let them use their choppers for such emergency situations. 

It’s one of the ways government can be “creative” in dealing with the literally deadly traffic nightmare in the megacity while the Duterte government does not have emergency powers over the situation. 

“They should be creative. They should look for roads that are not traffic-laden or perhaps they can use choppers for an emergency flight,” he said during a press briefing. 

Panelo was asked for his reaction to an Agence France-Presse report that featured interviews with ambulance drivers who experienced a patient dying on their watch because of the mega city’s traffic jams. 

Panelo suggested that the Department of Health and government hospitals make a request for a military helicopter when it gets a call for an ambulance on a day with particularly heavy road congestion.

“The hospital will request. But I think the secretary of health as well as the secretary of the DND (Department of National Defense) should be coordinating with respect to that,” he said. 

Proves need for emergency powers

The plight of emergency patients stuck in traffic proves the need for Congress to grant the Duterte government emergency powers, Panelo also said on Tuesday.

“Because of that then with more reason that the members of the Senate consider the grant of emergency powers given that particular situation where even patients are dying because  the ambulance carrying them cannot reach the hospital on time,” he said. 

Even before Duterte assumed the presidency, he and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade had called for emergency powers to address congestion in EDSA, Metro Manila’s main artery. 

These powers have not yet been granted by Congress. Senator Grace Poe, who had led hearings on the matter, had said she wanted first to see a clear and comprehensive plan from the government on how the emergency powers would be used. 

Duterte, smarting from the turn of events, has said fixing Metro Manila’s traffic problem is one of his unfulfilled promises.

Asked how emergency powers would help the government, Panelo said it would mean the government can’t be slapped with temporary restraining orders when it imposes traffic solutions.

“For instance, you can no longer file for a petition for TRO…. For instance, if there are some projects that require construction of any project that may help in the traffic problem, like when you want to open some roads in some areas which residents there might not want it. There are many things,” he said.

Duterte, in his State of the Nation Address last July, ordered the Department of Local Government to reclaim all public roads being used for private purposes. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also said he would pursue an old plan to ask private subdivisions to allow public use of some of their roads at certain times of the day.

Despite the crisis-level proportions of Metro Manila’s traffic woes, Duterte has not certified as urgent any legislative measure to grant his government emergency powers.

Panelo said it’s up to the legislative branch to decide on the matter.

“He will not go down on his knees and plead. They should know what the President needs,” said Panelo. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at