The End of Fireworks

Filipinos boast having the best Christmas season in the world, citing an extended vacation period, ostentatious preparations for the Christmas eve dinner and the pompous display of Christmas lights that guarantees no one would be lonely during that season.

In the same way, Filipinos also claim to have the best New Year’s Eve celebrations anywhere in the world – pointing out the jubilant use of fireworks and firecrackers to kick-start the new year. However, with the most recent New Year’s Eve celebration registering almost 400 injuries as a result of the use of pyrotechnics we have to ask ourselves is this really the best way to celebrate the New Year?

Worrying damage to society

The number of injuries resulting in the use of fireworks and firecrackers during the 2016 New Year celebrations has reached 839 cases, according to official figures released by the Department of Health. Although that figure is staggering, the number is slightly lowerthan the previous year’s total number of casualties by 1%. The number recorded for this year was also 11% lower than the previous five years’ average.

While the decline is welcome news, the reality is still that several hundred people suffer injuries from the use of pyrotechnics each year – many of which are life-threatening and permanent. There were also 42 separate incidences of injuries caused by stray bullets from indiscriminate use of firearms, which like fireworks are also used to usher in the new year.

The new year’s eve celebrations may have been joyous for the majority of Filipinos, but for the families of those injured this may not be the case. Scenes of teenagers losing their hands, entire limbs or going blind are familiar during the aftermath of Philippine new year’s eve celebrations, which puts a strain on emergency medical personnel in the country. The celebrations have especially turned sour for the families affected by the massive blaze that wiped out 1,000 shanties in the impoverished suburb of Tondo in the capital city of Manila, which was sparked by the use of firecrackers.

In the developed world, if statistics like this emerge from the use of firecrackers during new year’s eve there would be serious calls to ban the sale and manufacture of pyrotechnics. In the Philippines however, fireworks are a tradition and scenes of amputated limbs and houses being burned by irresponsible use of fireworks are tolerated and accepted as the norm. But should this really be the case?

A case of personal liberty?

Supporters of the use of fireworks and firecrackers argue different points: one that it is an issue of personal liberty. The problem however is that personal liberty ends when the lives and property of others are imperiled because of your use of fireworks. This was the case with dozens of firecracker injuries, the victims claiming that they were hit by fireworks or firecrackers used by others. Cases also happen when firecracker shells fail to detonate at first, then later exploding when an unsuspecting passerby strolls by.

It was also reported by the DOH that 50% of the victims were children under the age of 14, below the legal age to purchase any pyrotechnics nor is it likely for them to have money of their own to illegally acquire any. These children are usually in households where the adults are using firecrackers and are thus injured by it. In one case in Bulacan, a nine-year old died after being struck by a stray bullet fired by an unknown shooter. The victim was merely playing at a public area when she was hit.

As previously stated scores are also victimized by stray bullets fired either by other members of their household or complete strangers in their area. In the case of the massive fire in Tondo, it was one reveler that was using the firecracker that set off the fire. This lone person’s irresponsibility soured the celebrations of hundreds of families, many are now left without a home. These people were no way victimized by their own use of fireworks but rather that of others.

Slumping sales, industry in decline

Another argument supporters would use to defend the sale and use of fireworks and firecrackers is the economic welfare of those who manufacture and trade such pyrotechnics. However, whether or not a ban is implemented these manufacturers look set to incur big losses anyways. The Philippine Pyrotechnics Manufactuers and Dealers Association (PPMDA) has declared the industry registered their lowest sales in 25 years.

The PPMDA blames this on extensive government campaigns to discourage the use of fireworks, airing gory adverts on television and other forms of media showing injuries sustained by firecracker victims throughout the years. The association’s president even said that several investors were venturing into other businesses due to the gloomy forecast of the industry’s future.

If this statement is accurate then banning fireworks would be a mere icing on the cake. The pyrotechnics industry is on the decline anyway, their investors are running elsewhere and production is downsizing. The economic losses proponents claim to defend are already happening and will continue in the upcoming years.

Not a big loss

The death of the pyrotechnics industry may not be a big loss to the Philippine economy, not only does it contribute a meager percentage but the industry is also known for several infamous accidents resulting in multiple casualties.

A huge explosion resulting from an accident at a fireworks factory in Cavite province in 2009 resulted in five deaths and almost 60 people injured. The manufacturer was a licensed business and employed around 100 people. Two years earlier, a similar work-related accident resulted in a blaze at a fireworks factory in Bulacan province when a worker lighted a cigarette while operations were ongoing. This sheds to light loose safety regulations and work safety measures imposed by the fireworks industry.

In 2013, two teenagers were killed while working at a firecracker factory again in Bulacan. One of the fatalities was only fifteen years old, which exposes another violation prevalent in the firecracker industry – the hiring of underage workers who are almost always underpaid.

In fact, the economic burden may fall on the hands of the taxpayers. The DOH has often cited the cost of firecracker injuries on the public health sector, finally declaring last year that only ‘passive firecracker victims’ will have their costs shouldered by PhilHealth. The workload of the police and fire service also increase dramatically during new year’s eve celebrations, stretching government payroll exponentially.

Cost to the environment, pollution

Yet the biggest casualty remains the environment. The skyline of Metro Manila is already hazy as it is, the widespread use of firecrackers and other pyrotechnics will only make it worse. Environmental groups have challenged the sale and use of fireworks, citing environmental laws and calling on the government to impose a total ban on pyrotechnics.

Last year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a warning stating that new year’s eve celebrations had brought Manila’s pollution levels at a ‘hazardous level.’ The department also reiterated calls for the government to implement a ban on the sale and use of pyrotechnics, citing the Philippine Clean Air law. Prolonged exposure to firecracker residue in the air can cause lung cancer and exacerbate asthma sufferers.

The above reasons should justify why fireworks and firecrackers should be banned completely in the Philippines. They affect not only the consumers who purchase them but innocent people in the vicinity as well. Fireworks pose health, safety, environmental and moral problems and should not be tolerated.

Examples of Davao, Olongapo, etc.

Many would say that fireworks is an integral part of new year’s eve celebrations in the country, but several major cities have already implemented a total ban of such pyrotechnics with much success.

Davao City successfully marked fourteen straight years with zero casualties during new year’s eve. The city implemented a fireworks ban in 2002, taking its place as a staple to Davaoeneos celebration is the torotot (paper trumpets). Davao’s mayor Rodrigo Duterte promised to take the fireworks ban with him to Malacanang to impose on a national level.

The city of Olongapo has also implemented a similar ordinance, slapping hefty fines on anyone caught using or selling pyrotechnics at any time of the year. Along with the cities of San Juan and Muntinlupa, Olongapo is considered the safest place in the country to hold new year’s eve celebrations posting minimal casualties.

Contrary to what proponents of fireworks and firecrackers say, the new year can be met without the ignition of gunpowder. The essence of any celebration is merriment, there are many ways to achieve such without the threat of losing a limb or your home. There is also no need to imperil the lives or property of others.

Death knell to fireworks

We are also reaching a point where climate change is at a critical level, the emissions brought about my the use of firecrackers does not help mitigate this danger. As it stands, the Philippines’ air quality is already poor – detonating firecrackers and emitting toxic gas into the atmosphere does no one a favor.

Thankfully, several government agencies have called on a total ban of fireworks – the DENR, the DOH, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) along with several environmental groups. Hopefully one new year’s eve we can not only kiss goodbye to the passing year, but to fireworks itself as well.

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