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Early warning

/ 12:12 AM October 16, 2016

The annual firecracker-related mayhem started early with an explosion on Oct. 12 in Bocaue, Bulacan, known as the Philippines’ “firecracker capital.” It was not just acoustic: It killed two persons and injured 24 others. Bocaue Mayor Joni Villanueva Tugna ordered certain establishments closed until an official inquiry is completed.

In all, more than 100 firecracker stores and nine factories have been shuttered. Tugna said the temporary closure would enable the local government to impose stricter protocols for the handling and distribution of fireworks. According to arson investigators, the explosion occurred in a store on MacArthur Highway owned by a licensed chemical dealer; it caused fires that quickly spread to nearby firecracker stores and other businesses.

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Tugna said she would not allow the shuttered establishments to reopen until new safety measures are in place. But she added that she did expect these to reopen in time for the holidays. After all, the sobering reality is that over a million Filipinos, including 400,000 in Bulacan alone, depend on firecrackers for a living,

You’d wonder why such a risky business continues to flourish, but then Filipinos are known to happily gamble with life and limb to mark the coming of a new year—and many lose grievously. In 2015, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) reported 56 firecracker-related fires for the year, leaving three people dead, seven people injured and P9.5 million in property damage. The Philippine National Police has been waging a long and largely unsuccessful campaign against illegal firecrackers and pyrotechnics on the strength of Republic Act No. 7183. The law controls the sale, manufacture, distribution and use of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices, with the amount of allowable explosive content determining whether a particular item is legal or not. Violators are fined between P20,000 and P30,000 and jailed for six months to a year.

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The firecracker problem involves public health and the environment. It could clearly use the rash, brash will being brought to bear on the war on drugs—without, of course, the killings. Think of those maimed or killed in the yearend revelry on which the firecracker industry is hinged.

President Duterte implemented a total firecracker ban in Davao City when he was its mayor; he has mentioned a total nationwide ban, which the firecracker industry naturally resists. In May, Celso Cruz, chair emeritus of Philippine Pyrotechnic Manufacturers and Dealers Association Inc., spoke of a “vision [of] a pyrotechnic industry … that is economically stable, producing quality fireworks, and with safety as its foremost thrust.” That’s all very fine, except that literal bombs continue to be made by rogue manufacturers whom certain Filipinos perversely continue to patronize.

The Department of Health is clear on where it stands and pushes for a national ban as well. As does the environmental group EcoWaste Coalition, which points out that “large-scale explosions of

legal and illegal pyrotechnics to usher in the new year are not in agreement with the state policy of protecting human health and the environment, as mirrored in several national laws.”

The mayhem has begun—a warning that firecrackers and pyrotechnics have yet to reach the stable and safe level that has been bruited about. A child only a year old was among the injured in last week’s explosion in the firecracker heartland—an indication of the clear and present danger. Why should a yearend tradition be an excuse for the death and dismemberment of Filipinos of all ages and stations?

Last year, BFP director Ariel Barayuga said: “We appeal to the public not to use any firecrackers or fireworks. For their own safety, they can use an alternative way to celebrate Christmas and New Year, such as horns or cooking pots.”

Quaint? Yes. Inexpensive? To be sure. Safe? Of course.

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TAGS: Bocaue, Bocaue blast, Bulacan, Firecrackers, pyrotechnics
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