Local TV networks are starting their countdown on the stories that made headlines in the Philippines. The Napoles pork barrel scam and typhoon Super Yolanda that decimated the city of Tacloban are certainly going to be part of that list. Now, this story still makes it to the news as an annual feature. It’s nothing new and has almost become banal. Serving as news -public reminder to the throngs of mindless users, it comes, as I have observed, in two forms – the first focuses on the proliferation of illegal firecrackers sold in, for example, downtown Manila and the efforts done by the local authorities to put a stop to it. Sadly, it is a never-ending cat-and-mouse game. When police officers are around, vendors are law-abiding citizens, but shenanigans occur like clockwork the moment they’re not there. The forbidden firecrackers, according to one TV news reports, are not displayed conspicuously together with the other wares on sale; some are hidden under other products while some are sold in the guise of boxed candies.
The second is on hospitals and their “firecracker accident” units. Doctors are on duty to attend to those who met mishaps with firecrackers innocently or otherwise together with victims of stray bullets. These bullets are fired by gun owners who are oblivious to the concept of ricochet and the great danger they present to the people. Emphasizing the grotesque, I remembered one news report on the early hours of New Year’s Eve sometime back showing victims at the hospitals, writhing and howling in pain as the physicians tried to piece their mangled limbs together. This year one pre-New Year’s Eve reports highlighted the instruments used to align bones, collect the embedded firecracker bits, or insert a screw to join separated bones are discussed, hoping to put out interest in lighting firecrackers to usher in the New Year.
But the TV and print reports always fall on deaf ears. A few days I was greeted with news of a teenager losing his hand to a firecracker called Super Yolanda. He’s not getting any sympathy from me. Another boy lost two of his fingers after lighting a piccolo firecracker that he bought behind his mother’s back. There he was on TV crying and saying, in between sobs, that he wouldn’t do it again. No sympathy for this young cretin, too. Meanwhile, in a different channel, an adult pedicab driver lighted a firecracker and threw it away from him, not minding the passersby, to while away his boredom as he waited for passengers. Whoever sympathises with this Neanderthal is dumber than a box of rocks.
I miss the New Year celebrations where you can still be out of your house to admire the fireworks’ display lighting up the dark sky without fear of being hit by stray bullets or a firecracker exploding in your face. My parents made a ritual of lighting sparklers shortly before midnight when we were still young; we’d then wait for 12 and blow the horns we bought and watch the fireworks display from the other street. But that’s all in the past. Every year is the same in Quezon City – the air is thick with firecracker smoke as our neighbours are wont to light firecrackers with wanton abandonment and the fear of stray bullets has a tenacious grip on our minds. Nice as they may be, our neighbours have no compunction in lighting firecrackers that are powerful enough to render one deaf or give a senior citizen a nervous tic or a heart attack. They’d let out laughter synonymous to patients having escaped from a mental asylum after each explosion. It’s pure lunacy! I suppose I must be thankful that they haven’t, in the years they’ve been burning their money, fired a gun unlike my old high school buddy. Close to a decade ago, my high school buddy’s sibling would have never seen the light of day had he turned his head on his pillow. A bullet had lodged, he discovered, a few centimetres away from where his head was when he woke up from his nap.
It is ludicrous from any angle. Why can’t Quezon City have a complete ban on firecrackers like Davao City and Muntinlupa? Where is the merriment in welcoming 2014 when you’re petrified to the point of paralysis at the very sound of firecrackers going off like grenades? I understand the belief of making noise to ward off evil spirits, but it doesn’t mean revellers and other people accompany the evil spirits.