As this is being written, there are already 164 persons, most of them children, who have been injured by firecrackers. Three percent of them required amputation of the limbs. There is already one victim of a stray bullet fired into the air by an irresponsible gun owner. And New Year is still two days away. I am sure that by the time the New Year’s Eve revelry is over, there will be many, many more victims, dead and injured from firecracker blasts, stray bullets and fires.
Of those reported by the Department of Health, 128 cases, or 78 percent, were caused by illegal firecrackers, of which 97 injuries were caused by the “Piccolo,” a banned firecracker. Manufacturers are turning out not just firecrackers; they are already producing mini-bombs that can kill outright.
If they are illegal and banned, why have they been able to injure so many? It can only mean that national and local government authorities, particularly the police, are not doing their jobs, are inefficient or, worse, have been bribed to look the other way.
The police again made a big show, for the benefit of media, of taping the barrels of policemen’s service firearms. This is nothing but palabas. The tapes can be removed, after which the guns can be fired and the tapes replaced. Why not just have the policemen leave their firearms at headquarters until the New Year’s Eve merrymaking is over? Why issue them service pistols at all when they are prohibited from firing them? Isn’t that silly?
And why are the police issuing press releases and inspecting pyrotechnic stores only now? Many people have already bought their fireworks devices. The manufacturers have long ago made their mini-bombs. Once these devices are made, the manufacturers will have to sell them, clandestinely if necessary, because they have already invested money on them. If they don’t sell them, they would lose their investments.
And when there are mini-bombs available for sale, people will buy them. And when there is a demand, the manufacturers will make them. It’s a vicious cycle.
The time to inspect is long before the Christmas season, when the factories begin making their “weapons of mass destruction.” Inspect the factories, not the stores. The stores only buy and then sell the firecrackers. Once the storeowners have paid for their inventory, they would have to sell them or else they would lose their investments. Never mind if the police raid their stores and confiscate some of the banned firecrackers. They still have many in reserve. That is why some of the buying and selling is done in whispers, and done at the back of stores or some other place away from them.
Manufacturers prefer to make the more powerful firecrackers because they sell for more, and that is why the stores prefer to sell them. Some buyers actually ask for them. The crackers come with very inventive names, such as “Bin Laden,” “Goodbye Gloria” and “Goodbye World.” There is even one called “Gunaw,” referring to the recent “end of the world” prediction. The Piccolo has been renamed “Pacquiao” but is still as powerful and still banned.
For some strange reason, there are adults who prefer the powerful mini-bombs that can maim or even kill. If they themselves are the ones who are killed or injured, perhaps we can say “it’s your fault.” But what if the victims are innocent children? According to the DOH, most of the victims, or 42 percent, are children 6-10 years old. Forty percent of them are below 10 years old. These are innocent children who do not know what they are doing.
Most likely, it was their elders who bought the banned firecrackers. Or maybe it was their parents who gave them the money with which to buy the firecrackers.
While the law punishes the manufacturer or seller of the banned firecrackers, it does not punish the buyer. Yet it is the latter who is the root cause of it all. As stated earlier, as long as there are buyers, factories will make and the stores will sell dangerous or fatal firecrackers. It’s a case of demand and supply.
On the other hand, if there is no supply of the banned firecrackers, then there will be nothing to sell even when buyers ask for them. The buyers will have to be content with the smaller, less powerful firecrackers.
It is useless to repeatedly tell the people not to explode firecrackers. Doing that is already a New Year’s Eve tradition in the Philippines. Telling Filipinos not to explode firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is like King Canute ordering the waves to stop at his feet.
To fulfill the need for firecrackers and still save lives and limbs, Filipino manufacturers should be forced to make only the small, safe, cigarette-sized firecrackers like those that are produced in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. The smallest firecracker that local manufacturers produce is the “triangulo,” but it is still powerful enough to injure if handled carelessly. The “Five Star” is a bigger version of the triangulo and is banned I think. In comparison, the cigarette-sized firecrackers are very safe.
The trouble is that Filipinos don’t know how to make them, or are too lazy to learn how. The triangulo came about because it is the easiest and fastest of firecrackers to make. Workers are paid by the hundreds of pieces made. On the other hand, they are paid more for the mini-bombs like the Piccolo which therefore sell for more, which means more profit per piece for the manufacturer.
The initiative, therefore, should come from the government which should help the pyrotechnics makers learn how to make the safe firecrackers. Send some of them abroad to learn how, or hire foreigners to come here and teach them.