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A helicopter trip to a Coldplay concert lands a world leader in trouble

HONG KONG — The leader of the Philippines has landed himself in trouble after he used a presidential helicopter to bypass heavy traffic and make it to a Coldplay concert.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his wife were seen riding a chopper last Friday to the Philippine Arena— the world’s largest indoor arena — just north of Manila, the country’s notoriously traffic-heavy capital. 

He soon got backlash from some social media users, who questioned his use of taxpayers’ money and criticized him for not solving transportation issues in the country.

“What he showed was a stark contrast to what many ordinary Filipino concertgoers had to go through,” Nick Villavecer said Monday by text message, adding that he was “utterly disappointed” but not surprised.

Villavecer said he left home seven hours before the concert in a car pool with other fans to avoid expected traffic jams.

“We have heard of some horrible stories of people being stuck in the traffic and missing the first half of the previous concerts,” he said. “If the venue was more accessible, we wouldn’t have to spend hours waiting outside.”

Philippine President Coldplay Helicopter
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. speaks in Manila on Jan. 10.Ezra Acayan / AP

In response to the wave of online criticism, Maj. Gen. Nelson Morales, who heads the Presidential Security Command, said in a statement Saturday that the security agency “took decisive action by opting for the presidential chopper.”

The arena experienced “an unprecedented influx of 40,000 individuals eagerly attending a concert, resulting in unforeseen traffic complications,” which posed a potential threat to the leader’s security, Morales added. 

The statement did little to stem the backlash, however.

“If his security team identified the situation as unsafe and risky for the president and his family, then he shouldn’t have gone there to begin with,” Villavecer said.

“When the commuters have been suffering for few years, you have no ‘decisive action,’” Filipino activist Renato Reyes Jr. said on X. “Please reveal how much public money was spent on this trip.”

Reyes is a frequent critic of Marcos, who is the son and namesake of the country’s late ousted dictator.

Manila’s congestion problem was not lost on Coldplay, with the band’s lead vocalist, Chris Martin, thanking fans for “making the effort to pull through” the traffic for the concert, while Marcos was in the audience, according to a video that was shared widely on social media.

“We’ve seen some traffic, but I think you have the No. 1 in the world,” he said.

The next night, Martin performed an impromptu song about the traffic situation. 

“There is only really one thing that remains. The traffic here in Manila is completely insane,” Martin said, leading fans to cheer.

“If you want to drive somewhere then I warn you. A 2-mile drive takes a week or two,” Martin added.

Logjams have been a persistent issue for Filipinos. Manila ranked first in the 2023 TomTom Traffic Index list of metro areas among 400 cities worldwide, which was released this month.

In 2023, it would take drivers in the city 25 minutes to travel every 6 miles, according to the traffic data provider, compared to 13 minutes for drivers in New York City — the slowest travel time in the U.S.

Some concertgoers said they hoped the government could solve the traffic issues as soon as possible.

“We genuinely only hope that serious action be taken and expect results from our government, especially now that it’s been called out by a global artist, so they won’t be discouraged to come and visit Manila,” said Mikaela Lopez, who also recorded and posted the video of Martin talking about the traffic on TikTok.

Last Friday, the Philippine Transportation Department responded to the ranking on TomTom, saying the government would be “creative at finding last solutions” to the congestion.  

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