How to stop the annual New Year’s Eve mayhem | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

How to stop the annual New Year’s Eve mayhem

/ 10:46 PM December 29, 2011

Three days before the New Year’s Eve “merrymaking,” already the number of firecracker- and stray bullet-related injuries monitored by the Department of Health has reached 143, much higher than last year’s on the same date. Obviously, the DOH’s “Iwas Paputok” and “APIR” campaigns have little effect on Filipinos. Telling Filipinos not to light firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is like King Canute telling the waves not to wet his feet.

Let’s face it, for Pinoys New Year’s Eve is not New Year’s Eve without firecrackers. For that, we have to blame the Chinese who introduced firecrackers to us centuries ago. Today they are still the world’s No. 1 one maker of fireworks—and, I would like to add, the safest pyrotechnics.

Pinoys are not satisfied with simple noisemakers like banging on pots and pans, blowing horns and whistles and other means. They want to hear the sound of an explosion and to see the explosion itself: the flash of light, the pieces of paper blown into the air, and smoke rising. After New Year’s Eve, much of the Philippines looks like a battlefield with the scent of gunpowder and smoke engulfing the land like a fog, and the remnants of a battle littering the streets.


And if you go into the emergency rooms of hospitals, it really looks like there is a battle going on as patient after patient with injuries are brought in amidst the cries of pain inside and the exploding firecrackers outside. The doctors and nurses of hospitals are overworked on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Indeed, most hospitals put their whole staff, including interns, on 24-hour alert as New Year nears. Most of them are on 24-hour duty on D-Day itself.


Pinoys will buy firecrackers, no matter how you scare them and dissuade them from doing so, as long as the firecrackers are available. And once these have been bought, the firecrackers will surely be lighted.

The fireworks stores along the highway in Bocaue, Bulacan, will continue to sell them as long as people are buying and the supply is available. Making fireworks is a means of livelihood not only to the merchants but also to the rich manufacturers and the hundreds of poor boys who work, half-naked, in their factories. An explosion in a makeshift factory does not scare them, even if some workers are killed and injured. They always think: It will never happen to me. I am careful.

This is the same reasoning that make Pinoys get their limbs blasted: that will not happen to me.

The solution to the annual mayhem is to cut the supply from the source, the factories. I am perplexed why the government does not do this despite the annual deaths and injuries due to their products.

But what happens to those who make a living from making or selling firecrackers? Kawawa naman sila.

They can continue to make firecrackers, but only the safe, cigarette-sized ones like those produced in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and fireworks displays which earn more money.


The trouble is that the factories are largely unregulated. It is the stores that the police raid when the firecrackers have already been made.  Once they are made, they have to be sold or the factory owners will lose money. And once the storeowners buy them from the factories, they have to sell them or they, too, lose money.

Unregulated, competing factories engage in some sort of arms race to produce the most powerful firecracker because they command higher prices. Every year, they come up with more powerful ones.

And every year, people buy them because among foolish Pinoys there is also a sort of arms race. They think that they gain a higher status in the neighborhood if they have more powerful firecrackers. That’s not true, of course, but that’s how Pinoys think, in the same manner that they think they get status if they buy yachts and Porsches and buy their wives expensive jewelry.

The factories are no longer producing just firecrackers but mini-bombs. The latest craze are the “Goodbye Bin Laden,” “Goodbye Bading,” “Goodbye Philippines” and “Goodbye Earth.” I suppose the bomb called “Goodbye Universe” is even more powerful than the rest.

Just how powerful they are can be gauged from the experience of the man whose leg had to be amputated after he got too close to a “Goodbye Philippines” blast.

So going back to my suggestion: Let’s allow the factories to continue making safe cigarette-sized firecrackers but increase the penalties for making the illegal ones. Local government units must monitor and supervise them more closely. In the long run, they will sell more because these small firecrackers are packaged in strings of 30 or 50. Light one and the whole package goes off like a machine gun. Therefore, the people will consume more and buy more.

The trouble is that our factories do not know how or do not have the machines to make them. But they can send workers to Hong Kong or China to learn how to make them.

Incentives can also be given to manufacturers who concentrate on fireworks displays, the kind that soars into the sky and bursts there harmlessly and lights up the sky in twinkling, sparkling multicolor. They are beautiful, ’di ba? They usually cost more, but the Chinese have been able to make smaller and cheaper packages.

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The DOH’s compact disc containing the sounds of different firecrackers is a good idea. But I have another suggestion: Instead of a compact disc for sound only, why not have a DVD disc that has not only sound but the actual explosions and fireworks displays themselves. Allow the DVD pirates to reproduce them and sell them for maybe P50 each. The DOH can start by filming the firecracker explosions and fireworks displays this New Year’s Eve. Then next year, people will perhaps buy the DVD instead of firecrackers.

TAGS: featured columns, Firecrackers, new year revelry, opinion, stray bullets

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