Filipinos brace for bloody New Year’s revelry

AFP, MANILA

Mon, Dec 31, 2012 - Page 5

The Philippines braced yesterday for its annual orgy of New Year’s Eve merrymaking that leaves hundreds of people maimed by firecrackers or shot by bullets fired in the air by armed revelers.

A total of 164 people have already been injured by fireworks since the Christmas weekend, half of them in Manila, while one person was wounded by a stray bullet, according to the health department.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III interrupted his Christmas holidays to meet with emergency services officials on government preparations for mass casualties, fires and other potential mayhem from the often drunken revelry.

The government reported 454 firecracker-related injuries from hospitals across the country as this year was welcomed, many of them children and drunk adults who ignored government warnings.

At a meeting aired on national TV yesterday, Aquino expressed concern over the sale of oversized firecrackers, and chastised officials at the meeting for failing to shut down factories and retailers making and selling them.

“If you tossed that onto the road, would it damage the road as well?” he asked, interrupting a slide show on a frame that dealt with a giant 58cm2 firecracker called “Goodbye Philippines.”

Aquino was told it would, before saying that the noisy celebrations were therefore also responsible for damaging government property.

Individual fireworks containing not more than 0.2g of explosive material are allowed by law, but police told the meeting they had seized 11.9 million pesos (US$29,000) worth of illegal fireworks.

“Please direct the [local government units] to explain how such a store can be selling regulated items without the necessary permits,” an apparently irritated Aquino said.

“How come we’re filing cases [for the illegal sale of firecrackers,] but we’ve not been shutting down the stores selling them?” the president added.

The fire services representative at the meeting, metropolitan Manila fire inspector Renato Marcial, said firecrackers have triggered three blazes so far in the current Christmas holidays, compared with eight last year.

“The Bureau of Fire Protection would like to appeal for a ban on firecrackers,” Marcial told Aquino.