Habits die hard
Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa has declared the Duterte administration’s efforts to minimize firecracker-related injuries during the traditional New Year celebrations “a resounding success.”
The statistics appear to bear him out.
According to the Department of Health, the number of injuries as of 6 a.m. Sunday was 350, a figure 60 percent lower than in the previous year, and the lowest it has been in 10 years, which averaged around 1,000 injuries.
Credit must clearly go to the strong efforts by the administration to tamp down the sale and use of firecrackers. In this, President Duterte has a successful template in hand with the total ban on firecrackers in his native Davao while he was mayor of the city, resulting in zero injuries year in and year out while the rest of the country reported cases of children and adults either dying or getting maimed in the course of the ear-splitting merrymaking.
Still, habits die hard, and Filipinos can be hardheaded when it comes to traditions they’ve come to love, no matter how dangerous.
In the days and weeks leading to New Year’s Eve, the crackle and pop of firecrackers being lit appeared to have indeed been muted—at least compared to previous years when the period was marked by a growing cacophony of explosions here and there, leading to the pandemonium of Dec. 31. This time, there were less sightings of children playing with firecrackers on the streets, and manufacturers and sellers were one in lamenting the serious decline in their business as authorities warned the public about indulging in the use of such lethal stuff as the piccolo, which has accounted for the deadliest injuries, especially among children, for many years.
But all restraint was again abandoned when the clock neared the stroke of midnight. Metro Manila once again exploded into a deafening, seemingly endless barrage of fiery explosions, a sight that was doubtless a marvel to see from an elevated vantage point, but on the ground represented a danger for everyone, not only because of the acrid smoke but also of the very real possibility of getting wounded by a rocket or sparkler, or worse, a stray bullet.
In fact, the morning after showed that, despite the historically low tally of 350 or so injuries, the number still included horrific cases of maiming and death. A 3-year-old boy in Cabanatuan City lost his right hand, just one among five cases of amputations due to firecracker injuries, according to the DOH. Meanwhile, in Malabon City, a 15-year-old girl was hit by a stray bullet in the head, and remains in a coma in hospital.
The PNP’s own tally counted one person killed in Metro Manila due to a stray bullet, and nine others injured in other parts of the country. Those bullets must, of course, have come from the illegal discharge of firearms, a practice that lamentably remains rampant among many with guns who’ve also been addled by the typical drunken sprees at this time of year.
The PNP noted that, for this period, a “total of 15 people, including one policeman and one soldier, were arrested for illegal discharge of firearms while 13 others—four policemen and the rest civilians—remained at large,” according to a report in this paper. For their reckless act, these people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent; the cheerful mood expected at the turn of the year is no excuse to engage in illegal behavior that poses a serious danger to the rest of the community.
The relatively low number of firecracker injuries, as of this writing, is a good start, and should encourage the government to pursue the laudable idea of banning, once and for all, the sale of firecrackers during the holiday season. One wounded, maimed, or lost life is still a needless tragedy, and 350 injuries are certainly too many, especially for an annual occasion meant to celebrate rebirth and new life.