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Metro Manila traffic: Literally deadly

By Agence France-Presse September 10,2019

This photo taken on July 18, 2019 shows ambulance driver Joseph Laylo driving along the South Luzon Expressway near Manila. PHOTO / AFP

NEITHER the government nor ambulance companies keep count of how many medical patients die in Metro Manila traffic each year, but emergency medical workers in the city have many horror stories, news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted officials as saying.

Special lanes for emergency vehicles are not enforced, the infrastructure is outdated, and local drivers are often unwilling or unable to make way, a situation experts say is causing patients to die en route.

“You feel empty. It is as if you were not given a chance to do everything in your capacity to help,” ambulance driver and paramedic Joseph Laylo told AFP.

“If the traffic was not that bad it could have saved the patient,” he added, recalling how he lost a patient when congestion tripled the time to hospital.

Even with an encyclopedic knowledge of short cuts or aggressive driving such as blasting their horns or bumping unyielding vehicles, it is not always enough to arrive in time. 

Driver Adriel Aragon is still haunted after losing a critically ill patient when it took 40 minutes to reach the hospital; the journey should have taken half that time.

“No matter how hard we honk, even if we use our siren, if the vehicles are not moving it doesn’t matter,” he said.

“That’s what happened that time,” Aragon added of the 2014 tragedy. 

Five minutes before they reached the hospital the woman’s pulse disappeared. She was pronounced dead after they wheeled her into the emergency room.

At peak hours, the main arteries of Metro Manila are clogged with idling cars — a 25-kilometer, end-to-end drive through EDSA, the capital region’s main highway, can take as long as three hours. 

Home to some 13 million people, there is nearly one vehicle registered per person. The resulting gridlock costs Metro Manila $67 million daily in lost productivity, according to a 2017 Japanese government-funded study.

Images of ambulances stalled in unmoving traffic jams have sparked outrage on social media in the Philippines.

One of the most notorious examples, which has been viewed over 3.2 million times online, was filmed by a woman shocked that cars wouldn’t or couldn’t give way to the ambulance carrying her mother.

“I was very angry. I was worried too because we couldn’t do anything about the vehicles blocking our lane,” the woman, Jing Zamora, told AFP. 

The trip took hours, when it should have taken minutes. Zamora’s mother, who suffered a stroke, survived the trip to the hospital but died there a week later.

Officials like Aldo Mayor, public safety chief of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), put at least part of the blame on other road users.

“Some people simply do not care. It is as if they are the only residents of this world,” said Mayor, whose government agency manages the capital’s chaotic traffic.

He added that Metro Manila ordinances concerning emergency vehicles, including a 2017 regulation that reserves one lane for them, are rarely enforced due to personnel constraints.

These problems come as Metro Manila’s population has roughly doubled since 1985. Its infrastructure has not kept up. Its limited system of commuter rail is augmented by jeepney minibuses and millions of cars.

The nation’s thicket of bureaucracy and deep-rooted corruption have stalled or blocked efforts to build new roads, bridges and public transit. 

President Rodrigo Duterte pledged to unblock the capital’s choking gridlock, but halfway through his term EDSA remains a parking lot at rush hour.

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