BIG bucks went up in smoke on New Year’s Eve. The morning after, a huge fire, believed to have been ignited by fireworks, engulfed a slum area in Quezon City and destroyed roughly 2,000 houses and killed at least three people.
In seven weeks, even non-Chinese Filipinos will be joining the Chinese community in celebrating the Lunar New Year. We can only hope that there will no longer be deaths and injuries due to indiscriminate fireworks and celebratory gunfire.
Filipinos use firecrackers and fireworks to welcome the New Year because they believe these can drive away bad luck. But to many, the celebratory mood turns to grief and wailing. And this is not yet counting those who suffer asthma and allergic rhinitis attacks after inhaling smoke from pyrotechnics.
As of January 3, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded at least 730 firecracker-related injuries in last week’s revelries, involving mostly children and teenagers.
The DoH breakdown of the victims shows 32 percent were children from 5 to 10 years old, and 33 percent adolescents from 11 to 20 years old. Together, the victims aged 5 to 20 years old comprise 65 percent of the total victims.
The same data showed that in every five victims, four were males and one female.
Sixty-two of the victims were injured because they themselves used fireworks while 38 percent were hurt because of other people’s fireworks.
Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin said this year’s firecracker-related injuries were fewer than in the previous five years. But 730 is still a big number. At least 14 amputations were reported, including that of a five-year-old boy who lost his hand.
My friend Ibarra Mateo reported that a 13-year-old girl hit by stray bullet had to undergo a skull surgery to remove the bullet slug in her head while a three-year-old boy had an eye replacement.
Indeed, fireworks and stray bullets ruin lives, demolish dreams, collapse aspirations, as Ibarra lamented. The next victims may be your sons, daughters, nieces, or nephews, if not you.
In the previous year’s celebrations, two people were reported killed and 1, 006 others were left injured.
When will we ever learn that firecracker explosions are not the only way to create noise and drive away evil spirits. But do they really drive away evil spirits?
Every year we read press releases from politicians about the need to totally ban the use of firecrackers. The DoH has long been calling for it, too. The limited ban on production, sale and use of fireworks and firecrackers is practically useless.
If you Google how other countries celebrate the coming of a new year, you would see beautiful fireworks in some of the world’s popular tourist attractions such as the London Eye in Britain, the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, among others.
A few years ago, I spent the New Year’s Eve in Taipei where there were designated areas for the traditional fireworks lighting. People go to the designated places to watch beautiful fireworks display and to admire lightings on buildings around it. Firecrackers and pyrotechnics were banned in homes.
My friends and I decided to just stay at the rooftop of the lodging house where we stayed and got a good view of the colorful fireworks display from two locations when midnight struck.
The morning after, there was no trace of the huge fireworks display. The streets were clean, no litter as always.
This year, the Filipino way of New Year’s Eve celebrations with firecrackers and pyrotechnics caught international attention because of a three-minute footage shot from a tall building in Mandaluyong City and uploaded in YouTube. The video showed areas in Makati, Manila and nearby areas with deafening explosions and colorful fireworks everywhere. It was wild and chaotic.
The morning after, the streets were littered with wrappers of firecrackers, emptied containers of fountains, sparklers, fireworks boxes and sticks.
Reports about firecracker-related injuries year in and out show that the country’s regulation of firecracker production, sale and use is not adequate and needs to be tightened. Even with the limited ban, enforcement seems to be utterly lacking.
Republic Act No. 7183, enacted on January 30, 1992 identified firecrackers and pyrotechnics that are allowed to be made, sold, distributed and used, and prohibited those with “explosive content that could endanger life and limb, such as atomic big triangulo and super lolo and their equivalent.”
Knowing how creative Filipinos can get, manufacturers have obviously found ways to go around what is prohibited.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. was quoted in news reports as saying that “people’s cooperation and discipline are necessary to avoid injuries.” What about strict enforcement of the laws, Sir?
We should not be content with fewer injuries and attribute this to the relentless campaign of the DoH against the use of firecrackers. Even with a law totally banning the production, sale and use of firecrackers, it won’t work unless authorities strictly enforce it.
But if you see authorities themselves using firecrackers, how could you expect citizens to comply with regulations?
Take this very simple incident of a disconnection between regulations and enforcement: Two days before New Year, an MMDA “Oplan Disiplina” billboard occupied the outermost lane of Commonwealth Avenue under the Luzon bridge. Behind the billboard was an MMDA vehicle parked on counter flow. Commuters waiting for a ride occupied the second lane while enforcers were just standing by.
The situation shows utter disregard for rules by both enforcers and civilians. The rules were there, but completely ignored. What then are the rules for?
We cannot expect people to be disciplined if authorities who are paid to enforce the rules are among the first ones to violate those.
Every taxpayer should be concerned about these things because it is our hard-earned taxes that are used to pay the salaries of these public servants. Taxpayers money is partly used to treat the injured in government hospitals.
There is nothing wrong with rejoicing to welcome a new year. There is nothing wrong in believing that evil spirits will go away if we make noise on New Year’s Eve. Absolutely nothing wrong in celebrating. But we should do so responsibly. Other people’s injuries and loss of lives and homes should teach us lessons that we don’t have to waste big bucks to make noise and celebrate.
The torotot sounds a good idea which does not frighten dogs and pollute the air. It is also light in the pocket. So, how will you celebrate the Chinese New Year on February 19?