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There’s the Rub

Tradition

/ 10:40 PM January 05, 2014

I was congratulating myself last New Year’s Eve that the demonic bedlam that takes place every New Year’s Eve to drive the demons away lasted relatively briefly. It took only less than an hour where I lived, rising to crescendo by midnight and tapering off about 15 minutes or so later. Finally, I thought, we had come to our senses. Or the pleas about just sending the money to the victims of Yolanda instead of burning it in one senseless, wasteful and (self-)destructive ritual had finally fallen on not-very-deaf ears.

Until I saw the pictures next day. Though the casualties appeared to be fewer this year than last, they were still there, many of them children, screaming their heads off in emergency rooms as their blown-off fingers and other body parts were being treated.

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As usual too, someone had died from a to-whom-it-may-concern bullet that found its way into his head. That someone was three-month-old Von Alexander Llagas of Caoayan, Ilocos Norte, who was sleeping the sleep of the innocent on New Year’s Eve when the wayward missile ended his life. As of last count, 32 people had been hit by stray bullets since Dec. 16. Von Alexander is the only one reported to have died from it.

One is tempted to say thank God for small blessings. Last year, three died, including quite tragically, and monstrously, seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella. A happy child, Nicole had been just dancing the gangnam  an hour earlier before she joined her family in Caloocan to watch the fireworks to greet the New Year. Suddenly, she collapsed, a bullet having fallen on the top of her head. The bullet smashed the left side of her brain before exiting through her cheek. She never regained consciousness. She never saw the new year.

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One is tempted to say thank God for small blessings, except that it’s obscene to associate this with a blessing. A death is a death, and doubly unacceptably when it visits a child, and triply unacceptably when it visits a child in this way. My heart bleeds for Von Alexander’s parents, as it did for those of Nicole. To have this happen in the most joyous of nights, that is unfathomably cruel. And the thing of it is, it is so utterly gratuitous, it is so utterly preventable. It need not happen at all, it should not happen at all.

Last year, it was Lito Lapid who, in a sudden and inspired burst of lucidity, drew attention to it by saying that he had filed a bill some time back proposing harsher punishments for the miscreants and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t yet passed. His bill called for meting out six years to those found to have fired their weapons during revelries, 12-20 years to persons of authority, and life imprisonment to those who caused a death from it. The current penalty is a maximum of six months in jail.

I don’t know that adding stiffer, or indeed harsher, penalties for this crime will deter this crime. Life imprisonment, or earlier lethal injection, for rapists hasn’t exactly deterred rape in this country. You get that every time a particularly brutal case of rape, or worse rape with murder, happens; legislators vying to find a punishment commensurate to the crime, including lopping off the offending organ. I do believe that firing guns on New Year’s Eve deserves a punishment beyond a few months in jail: It is a grievous crime and deserves a grievous punishment. But I believe even more in catching the culprits first.

To this day, none of those who fired their guns, one of which ended the life of Nicole, has been found. To this hour, none of those who fired their guns, one of which ended the life of Von Alexander, has been found. Or at least been arrested, never mind jailed. These things have a way of disappearing in the maze of settlement or areglo.

Just catch the murderer(s) of Nicole please. And Von Alexander’s. Or else we’ll be making this same lament next year.

On a broader plane, I know it’s an un-Christian thought but I have very little sympathy for the victims of New Year’s Eve revelry. Other than those of course who became so through no fault of their own, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Particularly so this year when Tacloban grovels from homelessness and an uncertain future. What is exploding firecrackers on New Year’s Eve but fiddling while Rome burns? Or quite literally burning money while Leyte starves? You’ve got excess money? Give it to those that desperately need them.

I know exploding firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is a tradition. But it’s a poisonous tradition, literally in that it poisons the air. It doesn’t drive demons away, it unleashes them, not least in children missing body parts, not least in dead ones. It’s all of a piece, the exploding of firecrackers and the firing of guns, a collective release of restraint, a collective seizure of madness, people falling into reckless, heedless, abandon out of a need for a national exorcism, out of a need for personal catharsis. Which produces neither. Which produces only the spectacle of hellish agony next day.

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New Year’s Eve is a joyous time of the year naturally given to revelry. Other peoples indulge in raucous rejoicing too, but they limit it to watching fireworks and drinking themselves to a stupor, waking up next day only to a bad recollection of the night before or a worse hangover. Not to the sight of the dead and wounded. I know exploding firecrackers and firing guns during New Year’s Eve are a tradition, but if traditions can begin, they can also end. Bad traditions can and should.

Take it from “Fiddler on the Roof.” If things like arranged marriages and rigid social roles can end, things like murderous revelry can. It’s part of tradition too that things change.

It’s part of tradition too that people change.

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TAGS: Firecrackers, nation, New Year’s Eve, news, Yolanda
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