Filipinos may view American society as sick because of the Colorado and Connecticut massacres, but something akin to these tragedies happened here last New Year’s Eve. According to the Philippine National Police and the Department of Health, while the number of firecracker accidents during the yearend revelry decreased, the number of stray-bullet victims increased. As of this writing, 41 have been reported nationwide.
Among that number, two children have died, including 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella, who expired in a Quezon City hospital after being in a coma for days. She had been watching the fireworks display with her family outside their Caloocan City home when a stray bullet hit her in the head just 15 minutes into the New Year. Her aunt said family members had not even bought a firecracker, and had confined their noisemaking to toy trumpets. But the conscientious safety measures they took were not enough to ensure that the child who had brought joy to their lives would be shielded from harm. Perhaps just as worse was 4-year-old Ranjilo Nemer of Mandaluyong City, who died from four gunshot wounds in the head and body apparently from the accidental firing of a “sumpak” at the height of the revelry. The man who fired the homemade gun is now in custody. Like the Ellas, the Nemers said they had not used firecrackers for the traditional merrymaking and had actually forbidden the boy from lingering in the streets to avoid being injured. He was on his way to his cousin’s house when he was shot.
What all this means is that health and police authorities may have succeeded in discouraging the public from using dangerous pyrotechnics but have been classic failures in stemming the far more risky tendency of gun owners, probably police and military personnel themselves, to use the merriment as cover for their trigger-happy ways. In fact, while the first suspect in the Ella case—a barangay sentry and ex-soldier—was cleared because a ballistics test showed that the killer bullet didn’t come from his firearm, he basically admitted that he had fired it in reaction to the catcalls of his fellow sentries while they were having a drinking binge during the revelry.
Once more, Nicole Ella’s death shows that illegal firing is usually committed by members of the police, military, or militia—men authorized to carry firearms but who are apparently oblivious to the responsibility that goes with it. To think that police authorities had earlier conducted with much fanfare the “sealing” of firearms, to warn the men in uniform against firing their guns during the New Year’s Eve celebration.
And if men in uniform aren’t firing their guns illegally, they’re doing sloppy work in rounding up loose firearms. Even Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina, the director of the National Capital Region Police Office, has said that it might take time to locate the gun from where the bullet that killed Nicole Ella had come because of the sheer number of undocumented firearms; the ballpark figure usually given is at least a million!
Nicole Ella and Ranjilo Nemer lived in communities in the metropolis generally known to police beat reporters as havens of loose firearms—she in the Bukid area in Caloocan and he in Welfareville in Mandaluyong. The police’s utter failure to stop the illegal firing of guns there through a crackdown on loose firearms should indicate that they hardly know their beat, or they’re feigning ignorance. Either way, it’s again a classic case of incompetence and corruption.
The PNP cannot evade responsibility for the deaths and injuries that resulted from the New Year’s Eve revelry and the crime wave that has been sweeping the country. The PNP cannot sugarcoat its incompetence with public-relations gimmickry such as conducting spot checks on its men and their firearms. It cannot blame crime victims for not reporting their ordeal to authorities and should instead take steps to address the public sentiment that it’s useless to “cooperate” with the police. The terrible loss of the Ella and Nemer families is stark proof of the consequences of loose firearms and the shocking arrogance of the men who use them. Against the blare of the sick and mindless New Year’s Eve revelry of trigger-happy men, the deaths of the innocents cry out for justice.