IN THE days leading up to the New Year celebrations, the spokesman of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Supt. Renato Marcial, made the rounds of TV and radio talk shows to press home the BFP’s proposal for a total ban on firecracker use by civilians on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. If that sounds like a radical, excessive solution to what many may feel is just harmless, once-a-year revelry, one need only look at the grim numbers to be disabused of the idea that firecrackers are not all that bad.
The Department of Health’s latest bulletin says injuries relating to firecracker use, most of them occurring during the New Year countdown and the parties afterwards, have hit 760. Most of the cases involved persons less than 14 years old; the first day of the new year alone saw nine children getting their fingers amputated due to severe injuries. As of Sunday, the Philippine National Police reported 51 incidents of stray bullet injuries from the indiscriminate firing of guns, causing injuries to 41 people, including two deaths.
There’s some bit of good news in these figures. According to the DOH—so far, the total number of such incidents is 57 percent lower than the five-year average for the same period in 2010-2014. There have been zero cases of firecracker ingestion, and only two fatalities recorded, one of them the widely reported case of a drunken man who embraced a giant lit firecracker called “Goodbye Philippines.”
Apparently, the yearly information campaign launched by the DOH, PNP and BFP warning the public about the dangers of dabbling in firecrackers is taking effect, if ever so slowly. Still, what the DOH and BFP are publicly batting for is a step above prevention—a total firecracker ban to eliminate the hundreds of injuries clogging the hospitals at this time of year, most of them involving hapless minors who have to live with the painful, irreversible lesson of mangled limbs for the rest of their lives.
Their proposal makes a lot of sense: Ban the use of firecrackers by private individuals, households and civilians, and let trained personnel instead handle such lethal materials in especially designated firecracker zones where people can enjoy the spectacle of fireworks safely, without having to put their lives on the line for the vicarious thrill of exploding lights and sounds.
Allowing firecracker use in a limited, strictly monitored setting—the way other countries are doing it—addresses, first of all, the fears of a sizeable constituency of people whose livelihoods depend on the production of fireworks and sparklers; their industry would not be wiped out, but they have, of course, to hew to the law that prohibits the sale and manufacture of, say, the “piccolo,” a “small but terrible monster”—as the environmental watchdog EcoWaste Coalition has called it—that remains the No. 1 cause of injuries among those foolhardy enough to play with firecrackers.
Restricting firecracker use to a designated area would also help contain the terrible, acrid rubbish that litters the streets once the communal revelry is done. (What’s with Filipinos whooping it up but not taking the responsibility to clean up their trash afterwards, as in the firecracker debris left on streets and the vast garbage that despoiled Rizal Park a day after New Year?)
Davao has shown that a total firecracker ban can work—and you have to give it to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on this. Muntinlupa City has followed suit, which means that with enough political will, a destructive cultural tradition can be tamed and subsumed in the general welfare.
The DOH-BFP proposal deserves wide support for the savings it can generate the government, which need no longer engage in massive public awareness and information campaigns, year after year, about the dangers of firecracker use, once these lethal products are summarily outlawed.
So why does Malacañang appear uninterested at this time to push for such a ban? It has washed its hands of the issue, saying it’s up to Congress and the local government units to impose a total ban on firecrackers. What a cop-out. Obviously, Congress and the LGUs would need to be pushed, pestered and prodded big-time before they would consider spending time threshing out the fine points of this issue. Banning firecrackers may not be a politically sexy argument for politicians concerned only with being popular—but it is, for all intents and purposes, an urgent matter of public health and safety. It deserves to make noise, at the very least.
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