FIRECRACKERS SHOULD BE OUTLAWED IN THE PHILIPPINES

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Victim of firecracker blast. Photo: Phil. Daily Inquirer

Just like in the past, the celebration in the Philippines of the closing of 2013 and entry of 2014 was marked by a very heavy and bloody toll.

Fireworks-related injuries to 804 people as of January 2. At least two babies killed, one in Ilocos Sur and the other in Naga city, by stray bullets from guns fired into the air amid the recent New Year’s eve celebrations.

Among the casualties was Baby Von Llagas who was hit in the head by a stray bullet and died as he slept beside his father inside their house in Ilocos Sur.

This spate of unnecessary injuries and deaths is totally avoidable. However, this man-made tragedy recurs again and again towards the end of every year. And what makes this phenomenon more tragic is the fact that everyone in the Philippines and about 10 million overseas Filipinos knows that hundreds will get maimed or killed, and no one seems bold or enlightened enough to put an end to this annual insanity.

You might ask: what is the government doing to address this vexing issue? Hardly anything . . . except issue repeated warnings and reminders to use caution in the use of firecrackers eve if some of them are now likened to dynamites.

So, is the current government strategy in dealing with destructive firecrackers effective? No. It’s practically inutile. Last year’s casualties provide a deafening answer. More than 800 people, including young children, who lost fingers, arms and eyes to powerful firecrackers. Several lost their lives.

And what does the government plan to do in wake of the hue and cry over the large number of casualties?

“We can ill afford to wait for another New Year’s Day celebration marred by similar injuries.”

“Hence, we call on all stakeholders to reach a common stand on safer alternatives for celebrating New Year’s Day through local ordinances or enactment or amendment of existing national laws,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said in a statement.

At first glance, the official statement creates an impression that the government is intent on addressing the problem.

But take a closer and critical look. Is the government bold and decisive enough in resolving this problem by coming up with specific measures, aimed at nipping this problem in the bud?

Unfortunately not.  

Coloma’s call on all stakeholders to reach a consensus on safer alternatives to celebrate New Year’s Day is virtually useless.

It will probably take five to 10 years for an agreement that will address effectively the injuries and deaths resulting from the decades-long use of firecrackers to celebrate New Year’s day. To put things in perspective, it took about 14 years for the reproductive health law to get passed in both chambers of Congress. The law languishes at the Supreme Court as opponents to the use of artificial contraceptives try to delay its implementation.

President Benigno Aquino’s administration need not move heaven and earth to resolve the problems arising from the use of firecrackers.

For a start, the government can declare a ban on the public use of firecrackers and treat possession of firecrackers as a criminal offence, like possession of bullets and unlicensed guns. Why do this? Simple. Firecrackers cause injuries and deaths, just like bullets and guns.

Should the public cry foul? No. Not at all. No human rights are violated by a ban on the public use of firecrackers. On the contrary, lives are protected and unnecessary maimings are prevented by a ban on the public use of harmful firecrackers.

Any complaint that celebrations of the New Year won’t be merry without firecrackers is pure hogwash.

All over the Philippines, Christmas is the single biggest, longest and grandest celebration. And yet everyone enjoys Christmas from Aparri to Jolo without anyone getting hurt by firecrackers or killed by stray bullets. Christmas is never accompanied by the use of firecrackers.

So, why can’t New Year be celebrated like Christmas – peacefully and merrily?

All that Aquino needs to do is to exercise more leadership and be man enough to put an end once and for all to the production and public use of harmful firecrackers.

The local governments of Davao and Olongapo prohibit the use of harmful firecrackers. As a result of their bold and enlightened stance, both cities reported zero casualties from firecrackers.

The national government should take its cue from the successful ban in the public use of harmful firecrackers in the two cities.

Coloma’s call for “a common stand on safer alternatives for celebrating New Year’s Day” is clearly pathetic, deplorable and spineless vis-a-viz the tough stance taken by the Davao and Olongapo city officials.

If the Aquino administration really wants to stop the unnecessary maimings and deaths at the close of each year, all it really needs to do is look into its wide array of legal and administrative weapons to force firecracker producers to go into other lines of business that won’t harm the public.

Some firecracker producers are now exporting their products to several countries. Small producers can be persuaded to serve as subcontractors to big producers so they are not put out of business.

All talk about adopting a law that will serve as basis for the ban in the public use of harmful firecrackers is like shooting one’s self in the foot. Why go through the painstaking and laboriously-slow law-making process in Congress when administrative measures will suffice to put an end to the scourge of harmful firecrackers?

If there is strong public clamor for some form of fireworks display, assuming a national ban on public use is imposed, this request can easily be accommodated. But these fireworks display should be undertaken in designated public places only by specific government agencies to ensure public safety.

Let’s just look at what Hong Kong does. To celebrate New Year, the government of this city stages a grand 15- to 20-minute fireworks display at midnight of December 31 in the middle of Victoria Harbor. Tens of thousands of people flock along the harbor to witness and enjoy this grand spectacle.

Firecrackers are long banned in Hong Kong and yet the New Year is celebrated in a big way —  —  without anyone losing some fingers, an arm or  an eye unlike in the Philippines.

The Philippine government need not look far for a solution to the annual bloodletting and maiming at the end of each year. The Hong Kong model is well worth emulating.

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