ANGELES CITY, Pampanga , Philippines – The Philippine Pyrotechnics Manufacturers and Dealers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PPMAP) yesterday slammed the proposal of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to ban the use of firecrackers in residential areas, saying it is illegal and impossible to implement since Filipinos are culturally programmed to light fireworks on New Year’s eve.
Even before the proposal came about, manufacturers and dealers were already concerned about the importation of fireworks and a looming supply shortage ahead of the holiday season because of the damage from typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in production centers.
“Nagpapa pogi lang siya (Duque is just grandstanding). If he wants to really ban fireworks, then he should not be just saying it. He should seek legislation scrapping an existing law,” PPMAP president Celso Cruz said yesterday in a telephone interview.
Instead of lighting fireworks in residential areas, Duque recommended that local authorities designate an area where pyrotechnic professionals can light firecrackers.
He said that DOH is coordinating with local government officials to impose the ban.
The health chief explained that firecrackers, whether sold legally or illegally, caused serious injuries to more than 700 people last year.
Based on DOH data, firecrackers that caused the most injuries in 2008 were piccolo, kwitis, 5-star, luces, and homemade or altered firecrackers.
Cruz said the recommendation to ban firecracker use in residential areas will violate Republic Act 7183, also known as An Act Regulating the Sale, Manufacture, Distribution, and Use of Firecrakers and Other Pyrotechnic Devices, which was passed in 1992.
The law specifies the proper handling of various types of fireworks, as well as guidelines for manufacturing and distribution. However, it only specifies that local government should designate a special zone for manufacturing.
“A zone shall be designed by the local government unit where a manufacturing complex may be established. The outer perimeter of this zone shall be at least three hundred (300) meters away from the nearest residential units. Once a zone has been defined, no residential unit shall be permitted nearer than three hundred (300) meters from the perimeter of such zone,” section 7 (a) of the law reads.
It, however, provides that “the local chief executives shall be given the authority to promulgate the necessary rules and regulations within their territorial jurisdiction in conformity with the national standards, rules and regulations.”
“He will be violating the law if he enforces total ban,” Cruz said.
He said even former President Ferdinand Marcos failed to ban firecrackers during martial law. He said in 1972, all pyrotechnic products were banned because those could be used in rebellious plots against the government.
“But Marcos failed. Filipinos still used pyrotechnic products during New Year festivities. So how can Duque dare?” Cruz said.
“For centuries, Filipinos gather in their homes, not elsewhere, to commemorate New Year and that’s where they are used to lighting fireworks,” he added.
Cruz said Duque should shift his attention to apprehending illegal manufacturers of fireworks products and other violators of the law.
Importation killing business
Cruz is not only worried about the firecracker ban in residential areas, but also about the importation of finished fireworks for the four-year-old World Pyro Olympics held in Taguig City, which contributes to the contraction of the industry.
“We used to tolerate the Olympics in the past three years because the events were sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DOT) and we thought it was also a way of promoting our products. But now, it has become purely commercial and is held on a pay-per-view basis,” he said.
Cruz said the organizers have allowed the importation of finished fireworks products for use during the Olympics, which is illegal.
“The importation of finished fireworks products is prohibited by the firecrackers law. The government now seems to have a double standard on this by allowing the influential importers to violate the law,” he said.
A supply shortage of locally made fireworks is expected this Yuletide season after manufacturing centers were damaged by the floods caused by the series of destructive storms that hit the country in September, said Jerry Cagingin of Bulacan provincial cooperative and economic development office.
Cagingin said the shortage is likely to be filled again by smuggled fireworks products.
“We expect shortage and because of this, we fear that unsafe smuggled pyrotechnics products might fill in the void,” he said.
Cagingin said they have already alerted the Bureau of Customs and the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group about this problem.
Cagingin said raw materials in the biggest factories in the towns of Bocaue and Sta. Maria were submerged in floods for days, damaging raw materials worth millions.
Local manufacturers stock up on raw materials year-round, even if demand peaks during the Christmas season.
Bulacan is the leading manufacturer of pyrotechnics in the Philippines, with 500 manufacturers providing direct and indirect livelihood to some 100,000 people. Production is concentrated in the towns of Bocaue, Sta. Maria and Baliuag.
The provincial government has created a pyrotechnic board to address the needs of the billion-peso pyrotechnics industry.
In 1999, the provincial government had commissioned experts from Canada and the United States to introduce safe fireworks technology to local manufacturers.
Employees also attend government-sponsored trainings and seminars on proper handling and storage of chemicals.
Department of Science and Technology’s Industrial Technology Development Institute, and the Department of Labor and Employment’s Occupational Safety and Health Center conduct the trainings.