The message sounding through the air had me running to the gate to see if what I heard was true. Normally, it’d be an announcement about service for fixing broken machines which quickly went in one ear and out the other. This time it was an announcement-reminder about the prohibition of lighting firecrackers during New Year’s Eve. A patrol car slowly passed through the road, a cop reiterating the new mandate against firecrackers – small or big. Bringing up the rear of the patrol car were two motorcycles carrying three cops that stopped before my neighbor. The woman pillion rider seemed exasperated as she repeated the ban about firecrackers to our neighbor who didn’t seem to grasp the idea. She and her partner then sped after the car. But my neighbor was at it again as the last cop on the bike drove by. He said the same thing – firecrackers are not allowed – in the same low annoyed tone. He added that fireworks were allowed, complete with an upward motion of his arm as if simulating a fireworks display in the sky. My neighbor laughed a bit in the face of the serious cop. When the last police had driven off, my neighbor’s son groused loudly, “What kind of a New Year’s celebration is it (with no firecrackers)?”
Firecrackers (paputok in Filipino), fireworks, and sparklers are staple accessories during New Year’s Eve in the Philippines alongside horns and clappers. In my childhood, firecrackers were benign with the injury being minor burns if the one handling it was utterly a dunderhead. People could still be out on the street making merry because there was no fear of grievous harm against their lives. But through the decades especially in the last decade, the firecrackers have gotten bigger and the explosions louder. It was as if the thoughts of the Filipinos, as the years went by, had drastically turned from celebratory to insane and murderous with New Year’s Eve providing a convenient backdrop to let go of pent up angsts through lighting firecrackers that have morphed into semi-bombs. One of the local TV news shows ran an experiment on the firecrackers that littered the streets of Manila. The findings were atrocious because the “dummies” were destroyed. A watermelon used to designate a head was blown to smithereens! The number of injuries escalated as well as the number of amputations done on adult and children rushed to the hospitals, their faces contorted in pain and their hand or whatever limb completely mangled. Hospitals were placed on “red alert” – ready for the casualties to be wheeled in the midst of revelry. The indiscriminate firing of guns by errant cops and owners aggravated the situation. But despite the warnings of the Ministry of Health, medical alerts from doctors interviewed on TV who blatantly displayed the medical instruments that looked like a carpenter’s tools they intended to use on the patients, and testimonies from injured firecracker-users, firecrackers like piccolo were still manufactured and adults and children were still lighting them.
I had come to dread even fear New Year’s Eve because I was put on edge with every “detonation” especially by our neighbor who started lighting firecrackers any time of the day weeks before New Year’s Eve. My family and I were jumping out of our skins with every boom and maniacal laughter that accompanied it. But this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration might buck the usual ghastly turn it takes. The cops’ message is much welcomed and well received because, for the first time in ages, people in my neighborhood – people and pets – can now truly enjoy a joyous New Year’s Eve. This is, naturally, much to the chagrin of my daffy neighbor, but to my sheer delight.