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 â€œreportâ€, 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.
“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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