Philippines braces for New Year’s carnage

Posted On December 31, 2006

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The Philippine national police chief warned Sunday that anyone shooting off oversized firecrackers or recklessly spraying celebratory gunfire would be arrested in an effort to reduce the country’s annual New Year’s Eve carnage.

Philippine officials also urged TV networks to broadcast footage of firecracker blast victims writhing in pain as a scare tactic, as 50 hospitals nationwide were put on alert.

Superstitious Filipinos believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, drive away evil and misfortune. Each year celebrations go too far in the Philippines, as powerful firecrackers explode in crowded neighborhoods, often during drinking sprees. Many Filipinos fire guns in the air and set car tires ablaze in the streets, making many urban areas resemble war zones.

“I have campaigned every day against firecrackers,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. “But this has become a deeply rooted part of our culture.” Duque said health authorities were as ready as they could be for the inevitable wounded. “All the manpower, the surgical and trauma teams, the medicine, emergency wards are on stand by,” Duque said. “We’re ready.”

Health authorities reported seven deaths and 620 injuries from firecrackers and celebratory gunfire last New Year’s Eve. The number of people injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire has risen by 75 percent to 284 in the two weeks ahead of New Year’s Day compared to the same period last year, Duque said.

A Christmas Day blaze sparked by firecrackers killed 25 people in a department store in the central Philippine city of Ormoc. National police chief Director General Oscar Calderon ordered a crackdown on illegal firecracker use and celebratory gunfire, threatening to arrest violators. TV networks were also urged to show videos of firecracker victims writhing in pain in hospital emergency rooms as a deterrent, officials said.

Plastic water pipes sprayed with denatured alcohol and then ignited have also been banned this year. Called “Boga,” the noisemakers are still widely used, however.

In the sprawling southern port city of Davao, which has imposed a total ban on firecrackers in the last five years, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte went on TV to issue a warning to revelers. “Yes, we’ve maintained a record of zero injury, but there are still many violating the ordinance,” said Duterte. “I warn you, anybody who gets caught would stay in jail.”