Nothing learned | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Nothing learned

/ 09:43 PM January 04, 2014

The New Year has arrived but it is clear many Filipinos have learned nothing when it comes to the continued use of dangerous firecrackers. As of  Jan. 3, the Department of Health (DOH) had already tallied 933 injuries nationwide caused either by firecrackers or stray bullets during the holiday revelry, which the DOH traditionally measures from Dec. 21 to Jan. 5. This means that the number of injuries has already exceeded last year’s tally of 931 with two more days to go. Damning still is the finding that the vast majority of the injuries were caused by the notorious “piccolo” firecracker which, while being officially banned, is now making its way to the soon-to-be-severed fingers of more and more young Filipinos.

Year after year, the DOH has been warning against the piccolo and its kin but it seems no one is listening, no one is learning. The DOH maintains that its antifirecracker campaign—anchored by Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag’s well-intentioned dancing—remains effective, noting that the number of children injured has gone down, thus proving the DOH is reaching the right audience. The DOH also clarified that more of this year’s injuries were minor compared to those in the previous years. But it cannot be denied that the overall numbers are climbing instead of falling. At one point, Tayag noted that the increase in injuries has reached a ridiculous 29 percent.

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One can add the quality of Metro Manila’s air to the list of firecracker victims. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that it had recorded unnaturally high levels of particulate matter on New Year’s Eve; the toxic particles, sulphur and heavy metals the firecrackers and fireworks released are harmful to the lungs. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said that the average reading of 1,437 ug/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter of air) was three times higher than 2013’s average reading of 537 ug/Ncm. Add to that the amount of garbage and noise, one has to consider the use of firecrackers to be a massive pollutant.

The firecrackers represent risks to life, limb and health which the public appears to disregard. The firecrackers’ negative impact on the environment is another thing that the public either doesn’t know about or simply doesn’t care about.

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This past New Year celebration brought with it the realization that the time for a total ban on firecrackers has arrived. If cities such as Davao can enforce a total ban, there is no reason this cannot be done elsewhere—particularly in Metro Manila. There is, after all, already a law against this. Republic Act No. 7183 seeks to “regulate and control” the making and selling of firecrackers and fireworks “in furtherance of public safety.”

There have been promising alternative suggestions from government, including Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma’s idea to designate community fireworks areas as the only places where one can legally use firecrackers, something that echoes a bill filed in the Senate by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Perhaps one can go further and require all fireworks to be covered by permits that can be secured only from the local government units.

But the darkest aspect of the continued disregard for the government’s warnings about the New Year revelry remains the indiscriminate firing of guns. There is simply no reason for this, save cruelty and a savage sense of entitlement. This year saw 17 persons hit by stray bullets, including two tragic fatalities, both young children with the youngest being three-month-old Von Alexander Llagas.

Llagas had been sleeping through the noise on Dec. 31 in Caoayan, Ilocos Sur when a stray bullet penetrated the ceiling and hit him in the head. Llagas was rushed to the hospital but did not survive. The Ilocos Sur police have formed a task force to find the perpetrator and rewards have been offered but the odds are stacked heavily against this crime being solved. The Philippine National Police must do more than wrap its personnel’s guns with marked masking tape to curb this menace. The PNP must build a database for comparison with its new ballistic computer equipment and stanch the nonstop spread of loose firearms. Furthermore, much stiffer penalties must be meted out to those who, against all humanity, still fire their guns into the air because they can. When will the number of injuries and death make everyone realize the senselessness of this strange custom?

If there is one thing we need to learn today, it is this: Ban all firecrackers and end the indiscriminate firing of guns. This is the only thing we can do now to make sure next year’s New Year’s revelry will be both peaceful and, finally, safe.

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TAGS: DoH, Editorial, Firecracker injuries, New Year, opinion
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