MALACAÑANG on Monday joined repeated calls for Filipinos to do away with firecrackers in welcoming the New Year.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a statement, said there are a lot of safe alternative noisemakers—from playing loud music to staging street parties —instead of using the traditionally fun yet dangerous firecrackers.
“A few days before we celebrate the New Year, the government continues to appeal to everybody to avoid using dangerous firecrackers and welcome 2016 in a safe manner,” Coloma said in Filipino over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also joined calls against the use of firecrackers and firing of guns to welcome the New Year.
“It is alarming that this early, incidents of firecracker-related injuries and from stray bullets are starting to increase,” Marcos said.
“As of 8 a.m. of December 27, the Philippine National Police had already monitored 6 incidents of stray bullets with 5 persons injured as a result, 4 cases of illegal discharge of firearms and 8 injuries due to firecrackers.”
“It’s part of our tradition to welcome the New Year with a bang but as we celebrate let us also be responsible and avoid doing anything that could harm us or other people,” the senator added.
“Let’s try alternatives to firecrackers and enjoy instead the fireworks handled by professional pyrotechnicians. Firecracker use has caused death and fires that razed scores of homes and destroyed property.”
“Almost 600 cases of firecracker-related injuries were recorded last year for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, while the police recorded 61 incidents of stray bullets.”
“I hope we can all have a safe and Happy New Year,” Marcos said.
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has raised its alert status to red in the run-up to New Year’s Eve.
The move was also prompted by the 18 fires caused by pyrotechnics that were reported from December 31, 2014 to January 1, 2015 in Metro Manila alone.
The BFP is pushing for a total ban on use of dangerous firecrackers or pyrotechnics even if it is legal.
“We appeal to the public not to use any firecrackers or fireworks. For their own safety, they can use alternatives ways to celebrate Christmas and New Year, such as [toting]horns or [beating]cooking pots” BFP Director Ariel Barayuga said.
According to the bureau, firecrackers and pyrotechnics prohibited under Republic Act 7183 are watusi, piccolo, mother rockets, Judas belt, Big Bawang, Goodbye Philippines, Bin Laden, Atomic Bomb, pla-pla, Five Star and Giant Bomb.
Stores caught selling these items will be fined at least P20,000 to P30,000, BFP said.
It is asking the public to report fires and call the agency’s hotlines 117 or 729-5166 for immediate action.
The Department of Health (DOH) has released the slogan “Tetano ay Nakamamatay, Huwag Pasaway; Sa Paputok May Goodbye” to discourage the public from using firecrackers and other explosive devices as these often cause serious injuries that can even lead to death.
“We’re again reminding our fellowmen, especially the parents, to safeguard their children and make sure they’re not be lighting up firecrackers,” it said.
The DOH continues to work with the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Philippine National Police to prevent sale of illegal firecrackers.
Public hospitals and other facilities nationwide would remain on ”code White,” the highest alert level of the Health department that it has imposed since December 21 to attend to those people who might need immediate medical attention during the holiday season.
The DOH also on Monday said there are more than a hundred cases of firework-related injuries nationwide, with Metro Manila having the most cases reported.
According to the DOH Epidemiology Bureau’s “Aksyon: Paputok Injury Reduction 2015” report, there were 109 victims of fireworks injuries and two victims of stray bullets—totaling 111 cases as of December 28.
This, the report stated, is 27 percent lower than those recorded during the same period last year.
Most of the cases reported were from the National Capital Region (NCR or MetroManila) with 47 cases (42 percent), followed by Region V with 23 cases (21 percent), Region XI with 14 cases (13 percent), Region IV-A with seven cases (6 percent) and Region XII with six cases (5 percent).
Majority of the injuries reported were caused by the piccolo, a prohibited firecracker, with 84 cases.
Health department spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy expressed concern over the continuous prevalence of piccolo and other firework-related incidents in the country, especially among minors.
The piccolo bomb is an illegal firecracker in the Philippines under Republic Act 7183 or the Illegal Manufacture and Sale of Firecrackers and Pyrotechics Act.
Those found buying, selling and using any of the illegal firecrackers and pyrotechnics listed in the law will face imprisonment from six months to one year with a fine of up to P20,000.
The Department of Health, along with other government agencies, is advocating a total ban on firecrackers in the country.
Meanwhile, despite the number of cases being lower than last year’s, Lee Suy said, figures may easily catch up in the following days.
He reminded parents to make sure that their children are not buying any dangerous firecrackers.
“Parents are the direct guardians of these children,” Lee Suy said.
Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian criticized the DOH for granting financial incentives to local government units (LGUs) that will record zero incidence of firecracker-related injuries on New Year’s Eve.
Gatchalian, who is running for senator under Sen. Grace Poe’s ticket, noted that the government should prompt the LGUs to enforce the law rather than resorting to extra expenses just to make people follow the law.
“This proposal is not the solution. The Health department is just wasting its money. It should be strict regulation,” he said.
Gatchalian is pressing for tougher rules on sale and use of firecrackers by amending the current law regulating gunpowder-based products under his proposed House Bill 4434 or the Firecracker Regulation Act of 2014.
IZA GABRIELLE IGLESIAS, JACQUELINE BOUVIER ARIAS, LLANESCA T. PANTI and PNA