The self-inflicted disasters of Philippine New Year celebrations

It is the all-too-familiar case of of the same results brought about by doing the same thing again and again. The Year 2011 ended with the usual bang — Filipino style. The Department of Health (DOH) put the casualty figure of the traditional end-of-year orgy of fire and explosives at 739 injured plus one dead ten-year-old boy. All this despite, what the San Francisco Chronicle described as “one of the most extensive campaigns in the country’s history” mounted by the Philippine Government to discourage the use of firecrackers to usher in the New Year.

This “extensive campaign” however leaves much to be desired. One of the initiatives launched by the government, for example, was the Goodbye Paputok website where you could download digital audio files that mimic the sound of popular firecrackers. While the campaign was turned into a minor online buzz by “social media activists”, this sort of digital “solution” not surprisingly did not fly in a country where most people are able to access the internet only through Internet cafes.

The pyrotechnics binge indulged in this year was at such a scale as to blanket much of Metro Manila in a smoky haze that proved dangerous to commercial aircraft

A dozen flights were diverted from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila during the early hours of Jan. 1 to Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at Clark airfield north of the capital. Joseph Banoloa, an officer at Clark air-traffic control said the Manila airport asked to land a series of international and domestic flights at the back-up airport because of poor visibility.

Republic Act Number 7183 spells out the law with regard to the manufacture and use of pyrotechnics in the Philippines. It is clear on what classes of fireworks can be legally manufactured and sold and which ones aren’t and categorically articulates a ban on products “of such explosive content that could endanger life and limb”. It also stipulates that licenses and permits are required to manufacture, sell and distribute products that meet the criteria for legal use. There are also safety guidelines and building codes stated in the law for facilities to be used for the manufacture of fireworks.

The question therefore is: Has enough been done to address the problem at the source and at the root cause?

It is easy to mount “hey-let’s-all-get-in-on-this-together” love-in campaigns such as the sort we’ve seen this year. It does not take a rocket scientist to see through these sorts of “safety campaigns”. They are no more than flaccid attempts by the government to show the public that it is doing something about a long-recognised problem. But, really, these amount to nothing more than toothless initiatives that sidestep the hairy elephant in the room — politicians and government officials who are deeply-invested in the firecrackers trade. Indeed, if these so-called “social media activists” were truly the cluey lot that they imagine themselves to be, then rather than lap up this whole “e-paputok” farce and forward and re-tweet its slogans ad infinitum, they should’ve responded with a more critical position by highlighting the more obvious solution being skirted by the government — which is to crackdown on the suppliers and the politicians who coddle them.

In an ABS-CBN “report”, Health Secretary Enrique Ona was quick to point out how “some legal firecrackers were also to blame for many of the firecracker injuries”…

“Ang nakakaworry is there were even more injuries, though minor, from those that we consider legal: kwitis, small trianggulo, sparklers. So we have to rethink [the ban on] what has been considered legal firecrackers,” he said.

You can almost feel what a hair-raising experience it is for the National Government to have to tiptoe around the local government of Bulacan in order to get to the obvious bottom of the issue of moronic use of firecrackers in the Philippines…

“We will review the whole issue of what is allowed by the law. It should consider the environmental effect of the smoke causing the diversion of flights and affecting the health of our people,” Ona said.
Firecrackers

“I have discussed this with the [Bulacan] governor… We should upgrade the quality of local fireworks so these can be used by our people, the purchase should be controlled. It would be safer and the business of fireworks in Bulacan will even prosper. They can even export rather than you have small factories that produce unsafe firecrackers,” he said. “It should not be a backyard business.”

What is there to “review”? The law is quite clear and the building and licensing requirements for manufacturers are specifically spelt out. The obvious next step is police action. And that’s where the counter-intuitive concept (as far as bozos like Ona, are concerned) of balls comes into play. To stamp out a stubborn tradition enjoyed by people who clearly lack a sense of stake in their communities, one needs to use the full force of what the state is given the mandate to apply by the law. Love-ins, scare-tactics, and flaccid “social media” campaigns are no substitute for it.

[Photo courtesy TheAge.com.au.]
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12 Comments on “The self-inflicted disasters of Philippine New Year celebrations”

  1. *overhead on tv* kapag umunlad na ang ekonomiya ay makakagawa na nang mas ligtas na paputok (not teh exact words).

    0_o (economic prosperity = safer firecrackers mah a**)

    1. eto lang po ang aking sariling pananaw para sa mga tao hindi lang sa aten kungdi sa buong mundo, lalong lalo na sa ating inang kalikasan….wag nyo po masamain paki intindi na lang po, wala tayong laban sa kalikasan kahit anong high tech naten ngayon pag aralan po naten ang mga nangyayari sa ating paligid gawa ng kalikasan….

      01-04-2012

      sa pyrotechnics association of the philippines:

      anong klase ba kayo mag isip? sarili nyo lang iniisip nyo hindi nyo na inisip ang epekto sa kalikasan nyang negosyo nyo? ang dahilan nyo lang “mahirap nang talikuran ang tradisyon na nakagawian na?” e bakit hindi nyo baguhin na lang ang negosyo nyo at kalimutan na yung walang kwentang tradisyon na sinasabi nyo??? nakakasira na sa kalikasan, nakakasira pa sa kalusugan ng nakakarame, e kayo iilan lang kayo??? ang sinisira nyong hangin e hangin na hinihinga ng mga tao sa mundo!!!! anong klaseng pagiisip meron kayo? makasarili!!! sarili nyo lang iniisip nyo!!! isipin nyo ang masamang epekto nyang negosyo nyo! wala kayong pinagkaiba sa mga illegal loggers, illegal miners!!!!!

      tigilan nyo na yang tradisyon na sinasabi nyo!!! ano makukuha ng tao sa tradisyon na sinasabi nyo? ano? sakit lang at dumi sa hangin at disgrasya para sa mga tao…. sa inyo pera ang makukuha nyo pera lang iniisip nyo mga b—-t!!!!!
      nag pa interview pa kayo wala naman kwenta sinabi nyo sa media, pang sarili nyo lang ang pinalalabas nyo na concerns nyo! pero sa tao wala! igigiit nyo pa yang walang kwentang tradisyon na yan!!! sasabihin nyo pa ang sumbat nyo na hindi nga nasawata ni apo marcos nung martial law yang mga paputok nyo, ikukumpara nyo pa sa ngayon na lason na ang hangin naten!!!!
      mga b—w!!!!!

  2. I am not surprised at all by this. ABNoynoy Aquino is a glaring example of Filipino society’s fondness for self-inflicted disasters.

  3. Mr. Aquino was probably too busy plotting. What happened to the “matuwid(at malawak) na daan? I hate it every time new year’s eve happens. The madness of firecrackers and illegal discharges of firearms was not stopped by the great dictator. Hundreds of casualties again. It’s like a war zone! He really isn’t focused on the country’s ills. It was always about I, Me, Myself.

  4. It’s not a source of sustainable income or development. It’s a seasonal enterprise that results to garbage, pollution, sickness, injuries, death and so on and so forth..

    There is very little to lose and much more to gain by simply implementing a TOTAL FIRECRACKER BAN. No ifs and buts, simple as that.

    But is it possible in this country? Can we ban fiestas?

  5. What is banned or prohibited. Wowoowee people will find ways to have it. It’s part of our cultural mind-set already that: we have to scare away the misfortunes of the old year 2011, to usher for a better year 2012…Fires work manufacturers will find ways sell their products. It’s their livelihood…

  6. The government should probably offer tax breaks or other incentives to firecracker makers who want to switch to a safer business. That would help encourage more people to make the move.

  7. N/A is so flaccid, he can’t control his own cabinet’s collective mouth.

    I propose a strong disincentive: No SSS coverage for people who blow off their own fingers. No sense spending money on stupid.

  8. I always thought the best chemists will always come from Bocaue. I thought a school or an institution will rise as a result of this knowledge in making this product, but somehow, generations after generations, nothing has improved in the quality of life of the people.

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