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Editorial

Relatively pleasing

/ 05:34 AM January 03, 2018

Anecdotal evidence was abundant: Many people, in various ways, remarked how much more quiet New Year’s Eve was — and approved of the change.

There is some discrepancy in the statistics; nevertheless, the statistical evidence was also clear: There were much fewer firecracker-related injuries this time.

Much of the credit must go to President Duterte, who issued Executive Order No. 28 last June to add what could have been just another layer of “regulation and control of the use of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices” to existing restrictions, and then pushed its implementation.

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The result, even in Metro Manila, always the gravest offender, was: fewer explosions; a shorter period of risk (unlike before when the firecrackers go off almost as soon as sun sets, last New Year’s Eve the explosions and the fireworks were mostly confined to the last half hour before midnight and about a quarter of an hour past it); hardly any “gunpowder haze” the morning after (on particularly bad years, the post-New Year’s Eve haze was so thick it would shut down the Ninoy Aquino International Airport or delay some flights).

But the main purpose of the EO is set forth in the fifth Whereas clause: “Whereas, as there continues to be a substantial number of firecracker related injuries, even casualties, recorded every year, some involving more bystanders, the promulgation of stricter national standards, rules and regulations is warranted.”

In terms of injuries, the benchmark was the new low set in the previous holiday season (defined by the Department of Health as the period from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1).

The DOH reported 604 firecracker injuries then, the first holiday season under the Duterte administration. The other day, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reported only 191 injuries this season — and no deaths.

The total of 191 is two-thirds less (or 413 cases involving real people) than the previous season.

To be sure, reports from police districts and DOH offices across the country, if added up, assert that a total of 373 people were injured.

The discrepancy may be explained by double-counting or some such; the responsible government officers must resolve the issue.

But even at 373, the government’s campaign to reduce the number of firecracker-related injuries in the first post-EO 28 holiday season must be considered a success.

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“The government campaign against firecrackers has reduced the number of injuries. The passing of EO 28 reinforced the efforts of the DOH,” Duque told reporters.

He said he was “relatively pleased” with the results: “Relatively because there are still injuries reported, but pleased because of the substantial reduction.”

This is the right attitude for a responsible government official to take. Whether the number of people injured is 191 or 373, that is still a whole lot of avoidable health emergencies.

The triumphalist tone of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s remarks — “We proved that, while there was a very drastic cut in firecrackers this New Year, the people still had a joyous celebration” — misses the mark, because it is both obvious spin and it slights the experience of the injured.

Duque’s approach is much more sensible, especially considering that Filipinos have a long history of welcoming the New Year with explosives. This is a deep-seated cultural reflex, the instinct to celebrate the death of the old year and the birth of the new one with as much noise as possible.

EO 28 acknowledged this fact right in the first Whereas clause: “Whereas, it is a Filipino tradition to use firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices to celebrate events of personal, religious, cultural and national importance.”

Government policy in the campaign to reduce the number of firecracker-related injuries, as it now stands, is a robust combination of the following: a reasonable compromise (EO 28 mandates that the use of firecrackers be “confined to community fireworks displays”), vigorous implementation (by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, among other institutions), a strong publicity campaign, and a health-oriented mindset (the objective, as President Duterte’s own order states, is “to minimize the risk of injuries and casualties”). There is more to be done next season, but good job.

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TAGS: Executive Order No. 28, Firecracker injuries, Francisco Duque III, Inquirer editorial, New Year 2018, Rodrigo Duterte
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