Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Big Bang

The numbers are in.  Metro-Manila deaths and injuries over the New Years holiday from  fireworks mishaps and stray bullets were overall greater than last year's figures despite hopes by the authorities  for a decrease in such casualties.

Adding to this sad state of affairs this year on which should be a festive occasion was the extreme air pollution on New Years morning. This was caused by the soot and ashes drifting over the city from the large number of firecrackers that celebrators began setting off  in the morning of Dec. 31. This smog is a yearly event, but due to wind conditions, this year visibility was so severely hampered that incoming air traffic had to be diverted from the Aquino International Airport to other facilities

So given the hazards posed by pyrotechnics, should they be banned from Metro Manila except as authorized public display events? At first glance, that seems like the impossible dream. Fireworks, especially individual use of firecrackers to celebrate various holidays, are a deeply ingrained tradition in the Philippines.  Stemming from  centuries old Chinese cultural influence, the custom was originally based on the belief that the loud noise from firecrackers would drive away evil spirits. But now they are simply a source of holiday fun, sometimes the malicious kind. In the rough parts of Manila, revelers even throw lit firecrackers at passersby.

This leads to another difficulty in enacting a ban on private possession: the lack of public discipline in Philippine society. There are probably as  many safety laws on the books in the here as there are in Denmark. But they're nearly impossible  to enforce when so few people obey them and public officials charged with enforcing them are bribed to look the other way. So  would a statute banning these explosives be worthless? 

Not necessarily. Believe it or not, there are firecracker-free zones in the Philippines. One of them is Davao City (population approx 1.5 million) where 94 people were arrested for violating the prohibition and which had zero injuries caused by fireworks over the holiday and as a result, hospitals there were not swamped as they were in Metro-Manila.

To be sure,  the problem of dangerous fireworks is just one of many problems besetting Metro-Manila. However,  solving them requires the exercise of political will. Maybe imposing a ban and actually implementing it might send a message that the government is getting serious about improving public safety by penalizing personal irresponsibility.  It would be a small step, but at least it's one in the right direction.


robbo462003 said...

I had first hand experience of this New Years firework celebration aftermath my 50 minute flight from Iloilo to Manila turned into a 6.5 hour nightmare.At 23 miles south of Manila our flight was put on a holding position over lake Tarlac then diverted to Clarke where we had to be refuelled,finally arriving at Manila at 12.30pm and missing the international connection to Europe and the onward flight connection.

Secular Guy said...

Thanks for your input, robbo462003. My sympathies re your missed flight connection. I only hope that the MMDA's and other authorities' consciousness will finally be raised enough to put a stop to this annual madness.