How to stop, hopefully, the New Year's Eve mayhem | Inquirer Opinion
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How to stop, hopefully, the New Year’s Eve mayhem

/ 07:03 AM December 29, 2014

It’s that time of the year again when people, children and adults alike, foolishly hurt themselves by exploding firecrackers, and authorities predictably making all the usual noise and pretense of trying to stop the madness and mayhem. As of this writing yesterday, there were already 113 cases of firecracker injuries recorded by the Department of Health. By the time you read this, there would be many more.

On New Year’s Eve, or two days from now, the whole country will be like a war zone, with explosions everywhere and fireworks shooting up into the sky; the injured, whimpering in pain and crowding the emergency rooms of hospitals; and the doctors and nurses overworked trying to save their lives and limbs, sometimes unsuccessfully. Smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder will fill the air like fog and it will be risky to drive because visibility will be limited. There will be a few fires caused by hoarded fireworks or exploding firecrackers carelessly thrown.

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Can we stop this yearly madness? It seems impossible, but yes, we can—if the authorities know what to do. The trouble is, they don’t.

A few weeks before the New Year’s Eve merrymaking, the police and fire department, cameramen and reporters in tow, make a show of inspecting firecracker stores and confiscating banned fireworks. Warnings are issued by the DOH, the police and local governments. Police burn seized banned fireworks, again with journalists in attendance—but only some; the rest they keep to be sold clandestinely to the very people they are warning not to explode firecrackers.

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But these are all only for show, so that the public will think they are doing something. The fact is they are doing these things too late.

For example, the police invited fireworks manufacturers to a meeting, presumably to ask them to stop making banned firecrackers—but this only a few days before New Year’s Eve. What good will that do? By that time, the banned fireworks would have been made. And once made, they have to be sold, even on the sly, otherwise the manufacturers would lose their investments.

Inspecting the stores with fanfare—again for publicity—is also useless. By the time the inspectors arrive, the store owners would have already hidden the banned firecrackers, to be sold clandestinely later.

Warning the public against exploding firecrackers does not have much effect either, as experience has shown. Everyone thinks they are careful and not as foolish as those who have hurt themselves. What happened to others will never happen to them, so they think—until it happens to them.

People will buy firecrackers, banned or not, for as long as they are available for sale. And stores will stock up on fireworks for as long as people buy them. And manufacturers will continue making them for as long as there is a demand for them. The pyrotechnics industry is, after all, big business.

The thing to do is, to go to the source, the manufacturers themselves and to tell them—many months before New Year’s Eve, not a few days before—not to make the dangerous fireworks. Fireworks factories start their manufacturing operations six months before the new year.

Inspections should be made regularly—unannounced so that violators would be caught in the act. The licenses of violators should be confiscated, not only suspended. Owners of violating factories should be jailed as the law mandates, not merely fined P20,000 to P30,000; that’s chicken feed to them. The law should be amended to make the fines heftier.

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Local officials should be made liable for violations in their territories. Local government personnel, after all, being nearest to the factories, should make the periodic inspections while the fireworks are still being manufactured, not after.

So that the manufacturers won’t be forced out of business and their workers out of jobs, they should be allowed to continue making fireworks—but only the safe ones, those that fly into and explode in the sky in a kaleidoscope of colors. Without the fireworks, New Year’s Eve would lose much of its color, wonder and merrymaking.

But these fireworks cost a lot of money, so local governments should have fireworks displays in the town plaza or park so their constituents would have something to watch when the new year marches in.

Firecrackers should be made small, limited to the size of cigarettes at most, to ensure they’re safe. Even if you’re holding these with the tips of your fingers when they explode, your fingers are left only with a tingling sensation. Which is not to say that you should do that. With small, safe and inexpensive firecrackers, manufacturers would be able to sell more and people would not be deprived of the joy of exploding firecrackers in their front yards.

At present, the smallest and cheapest firecrackers are the Five-Star triangle and “piccolo” that, not coincidentally, cause the most injuries.

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TAGS: anti-firecracker campaign, Firecrackers, fireworks, New Year's Eve injuries
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