Duterte to order MMDA, HPG to escort emergency vehicles stuck in traffic

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) –President Rodrigo Duterte said he would order the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) to escort ambulances and emergency vehicles stuck in traffic after being made aware of reports saying patients were dying because they couldn't get to the hospital on time.

Duterte made the statement during an event in Malacañang Tuesday.

He said, "Maybe, I will ask all, lahat na, Metro Manila (Development Authority), Highway Patrol (Group), 'pag may emergency — huwag lang 'yang emergency na nagmamadali... 'pag may nakita na sila na may siren tapos, hilain na lang... Itabi nila para makalusot. And maybe that would be a mandatory work for them."

[Translation: I will ask all, the Metro Manila (Development Authority), Highway Patrol (Group), that during emergencies — just not those emergencies when they're just in a hurry... when they see a vehicle with a siren, to just escort them... pull them to the side so they can pass. And maybe that would be a mandatory work for them.]

Duterte, however, cautioned those who make up fake emergencies, saying they would be apprehended.

Duterte said he would course the oder through MMDA chairman Danilo Lim.

Earlier, Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo suggested the use of choppers for medical emergencies to prevent more patients from dying because of being stuck in traffic.

Panelo said in a briefing on Tuesday, "Kung ganun kaselan ang problema (If it's such a grave problem), then the Department of Health should initiate it."

He was reacting to a report that Manila traffic is costing lives, as ambulances rushing to medical facilities get stuck in gridlocks.

Panelo said the Department of Health (DOH) should consider allocating funds for choppers that can be used as air ambulances.

"Perhaps it (DOH) can include that in its next budget," Panelo said.

For reference, a start-up company that began offering a helicopter ride-sharing service in April charges ₱6,900 to ₱25,900 per ride. 

Panelo also said the health agency could coordinate with the Department of National Defense for the use of its choppers for emergency purposes.

Grant of emergency powers reinforced

He said that this public health issue reinforces the need to grant the President emergency powers to solve the country's traffic mess.

"More reason for the members of the Senate to consider the grant of emergency powers, given the particular situation that the patients are dying because the ambulances carrying them could not reach the hospital on time," the Palace spokesman said.

Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares, Senate public service committee head, has expressed opposition to the proposal, fearing it may be abused.

He said measures such as the use of choppers for medical emergencies are temporary. This is until legislators grant the President emergency powers to address Metro Manila's traffic problem.

Panelo explained that with emergency powers, the government will be able to address the problem of temporary restraining orders on projects that may help in easing traffic congestion. He cited as an example the opening of roads in some areas, which residents oppose by asking the courts for TROs.

MMDA corroborates findings that patients die due to traffic

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), for its part, confirmed that people are "dying in ambulances because traffic delays them from reaching hospitals."

MMDA spokesperson Celine Pialago said authorities have been trying their best to manage traffic in the Metropolis to prevent such events, adding that "delivering patients on time" is among their concerns.

The MMDA also issued a plea to motorists to give way to emergency vehicles.

"We hope that other motorists are willing to comply when asked to give way. This is what we can do for now as there is no space for dedicating special lanes for emergency vehicles," Pialago said.