MANILA, Philippines - At least six people were killed, some 340 individuals suffered firecracker-related injuries and 22 others were hit by stray bullets during the New Year revelry.
A five-year-old son of a fireworks store owner in Surigao was among those killed when an explosion hit the store and caused a fire.
The explosion occurred around 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at the Adens-Guibone firecracker store located near the Gingoog City public market. Joros Guibone, his mother Jocelyn, and store helper Mark Rito Eballe were killed.
The victims were inside the store when the boy’s father Adonis and uncle Ramon tested a firecracker, setting off a chain reaction, police said.
The boy was sleeping inside the store and his mother rushed into the flames in a failed bid to save him, police said.
A 14-year-old boy was also among the casualties in Pampanga.
Initial reports said that Jeff Concepcion of Villasol Subdivision, Barangay Anunas in Angeles City was hit by an exploding kwitis on the neck and was declared dead on arrival at the Angeles University Foundation Medical Center.
Two people, including a 50-year-old polio victim, died while five others, including a reporter, were injured following a fireworks explosion that razed several stalls in the Science City of Muñoz in Nueva Ecija on New Year’s Eve.
Senior Superintendent Ricardo Marquez, provincial police director, identified the two fatalities as Diosdado Santos, 50, and Angelito Nuque, 50, both of Poblacion West.
Santos, a polio victim, died from suffocation while Nuque died at the Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Research and Medical Center in Cabanatuan City while being treated for third-degree burns.
Marquez said a firecracker explosion took place at 5:10 pm Thursday along Tobias St., Poblacion West when a whistling sound followed by a burst of fireworks exploded at stall no. 21.
At least 25 firecrackers were lined up at the scene located in front of the municipal compound that also houses the police station.
Police Superintendent Fernando Galang, Muñoz police chief, said a team from the provincial special reaction team was inspecting the scene when the firecrackers exploded. The blasts also hit parked vehicles as thick black smoke billowed.
A team from the Muñoz, San Jose City and Talavera Bureau of Fire Protection put out the fire after 15 minutes.
Elsewhere in Nueva Ecija, 39 persons were also injured in the New Year revelry, 16 were youngsters aged 18 and below.
Of those injured, 15 were from Cabanatuan City, six each in San Jose City and in Gapan City, three in Muñoz, two each in Gabaldon and Palayan City and one each in General Tinio, Lupao and Rizal.
The victims were identified as John Wayne Eugenio, 5; Julius Caezar Sebastian, 7; Mark Alvin Matias, 12; Joel Sarmiento, 23; Angel Javier, 7; John Bin Alcantara, 11; Neryz Gil, 22; Jervy Lising, 6; Maricris Ladignon, 27; Flor Villaflor Talindan, 20; Kevin Carlo Capule, 8; Ulysses Calija, 12; Elmer Conca Pablo, 19; Rizlyn Valino, 20; and Alexander Gan, 51, all of Cabanatuan City; Jerald Morete, 30; Diosdado Sylvestre, 58; Lolita Sylvestre, 43; all of Munoz; Joel Yu BiadoMelvin Esteban, 24 (Rizal); John Caulali, 7 (Lupao); and EricBote (General Tinio).
A fisherman from Sinait, Ilocos Sur lost his right hand on New Year’s Eve when the dynamite he lighted exploded before he could throw it.
Police identified the victim as Bernard Libed of barangay Macabiag.
In San Manuel, Pangasinan, about P200,000 worth of firecrackers being sold in several stalls exploded eight hours before the New Year.
An unidentified customer who was smoking while buying firecrackers was said to have caused the explosion.
In Dagupan City, an unidentified suspect threw firecrackers at the automated teller machine (ATM) of the Banco de Oro branch along A. B. Fernandez Avenue around 3 a.m. yesterday.
The ATM was extensively damaged but the suspect took no money.
Injuries lower than last year
The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday said the new figures bring to 597 the number of injuries related to fireworks and indiscriminate firing since Dec. 21.
One incident of poisoning from watusi ingestion was also recorded earlier.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that overall, the number of this year’s casualties is 15 percent lower than the previous year’s when some 702 cases - 683 from fireworks, 17 from stray bullets and two from watusi - were registered.
Duque attributed the decrease to the “scare tactics” employed by the DOH when it launched the “Kontra Paputok” campaign early in December.
“I think the decrease is due to the more cautious use of firecrackers. Our scare tactics were effective. We have shown the public some gory images of mangled limbs and the various surgical instruments used in amputating limbs,” he noted in a press briefing at the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City.
Duque also credited the concerts, street parties and public display of fireworks in open areas that have been organized in some part of the country for the decreased injuries.
One of the victims in Metro Manila was four-year-old John Kerby Masirin, of Project 6, Quezon City, who was rushed to the East Avenue Medical Center.
Another victim is Ivan Asansan, 10, of Aghan Road, Quezon City, who picked up early yesterday morning a pla-pla that did not explode last night.
The boy lighted the firecracker but it exploded before he was able to throw it away. His right ring finger was severely mangled while his palm suffered deep cuts.
Records of the DOH’s National Epidemiology Center (NEC) listed the youngest victim as a two-month-old baby boy who was accidentally hit by a piccolo thrown by his elder brother. The oldest is a 75-year-old man.
Of the 597 patients, 353 were active users of firecrackers. A total of 39 of them have suffered amputation while 78 sustained eye injuries.
The figures were based on reports submitted by 43 of the 50 sentinel hospitals being monitored by DOH.
According to NEC director Dr. Eric Tayag, piccolo was the “single most frequently used firecracker” accounting for 208 or 36 percent of the 597 cases.
“Piccolo was extremely used all over the country. We would have seen higher cases had piccolo not been banned,” Tayag added.
The seemingly safe piccolo was designed for children and is not included in the list of illegal firecrackers under Republic Act 7183 or the Act Regulating the Sale, Manufacture, Distribution and Use of Firecrackers and Other Pyrotechnic Devices.
Last Dec. 30, the Philippine National Police (PNP) had banned the sale, manufacturing and use of piccolo at the request of the DOH.
PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said that they have arrested 58 individuals for selling piccolo.
Indiscriminate firing still rampant
Espina added that four civilians were also nabbed for indiscriminate firing but there were no police or soldiers reported to have illegally discharged their firearms.
The Bureau of Fire Protection, on the other hand, reported that there were 23 fire incidents in Metro Manila, three of them caused by exploding firecrackers.
Duque said despite the downward trend this year, the DOH could not consider its anti-firecrackers campaign a success.
The PNP has noted a significant decrease in firecracker-related incidents but admitted that there are still a lot of stubborn individuals who indiscriminately fired their firearms at the height of the New Year revelry.
The National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) recorded at least 22 stray bullet injuries, 12 coming from the Manila Police District, nine from the Northern Police District, three from the Quezon City Police District and one from the Eastern Police District.
The good news, according to NCRPO chief Director Roberto Rosales, is that not a single policeman from the 15,000-strong NCRPO fired their guns during the revelry.
“It’s a good sign that our policemen heeded our call not to fire their handguns during the New Year,” Rosales said.
He said all the five police districts are gathering evidence against those who discharged their firearms during the New Year celebration for the filing of cases against them.
He said slugs recovered at the crime scene would be brought to the PNP crime laboratory for cross-matching to identify the suspects.
Zero casualties in Davao
In Laoag City, a 64-year old woman was injured by a stray bullet while watching the revelry from the stairs of her home.
Six people were also injured from stray bullets in Zamboanga City despite the advocacy and strict implementation of a gun ban.
But if authorities were having a hard time monitoring casualties and victims of firecrackers and stray bullet incidents, Davao City again enjoyed another New Year revelry with zero-casualty as a result of its strict implementation of a local ordinance banning the use and sale of firecrackers and pyrotechnic materials.
The local ordinance, which has been implemented for the past eight years, has effectively prohibited the sale, use and even mere possession of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic materials not only during Christmas holidays but all year round.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the arrest and the payment of corresponding fines for those found to have violated the ban.
According to Dr. Ricky Audan of the Davao Medical Center, no one was brought to the hospital’s emergency room for firecracker injuries during the New Year’s Eve celebration.
“It has been like this for the past years,” Audan said.
There were no records of accidents and emergency cases in the other hospitals in Davao City and a check with the city’s 911 Central Emergency Response Center indicated there were no calls for emergency assistance during the celebration midnight Thursday.
“What we got were only calls by concerned citizens reporting violators, after which we dispatched the police teams who apprehended them,” an operator at the 911 center said.
Several people were reportedly arrested for violating the firecrackers ban and have to stay detained until office hours on Monday for the proper inquest proceedings.
Soldier injured in bombing
Meanwhile, a soldier guarding the Jolo cathedral in the island province of Sulu was slightly wounded following a grenade explosion shortly before the nation welcomed the New Year, a military spokesman said.
Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief, identified the wounded marine as Cpl. Dennis Hernandez, who sustained shrapnel wounds in the blast.
Hernandez was immediately brought to the Camp Bautista Trauma Hospital for treatment.
Brawner said the perpetrators of the attack are still unknown to authorities, although several bomb attacks in the province have been linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group, which is believed to have ties with al-Qaeda.
Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) commander, said the explosion occurred in front of a commercial store located at the corner of Ariolas and Boyon streets, Barangay Walled City at about 11:20 p.m.
The site of the blast was adjacent to the cathedral where soldiers were deployed to secure churchgoers attending the New Year Mass and the people who were out in the streets to celebrate. - With Edith Regalado, Celso Amo, Eva Visperas, Reinir Padua, Dino Balabo, Roel Pareño, Charlie Lagasca, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Non Alquitran, Cesar Ramirez, Ric Sapnu, Manny Galvez, Teddy Molina, Ben Serrano, Nestor Etolle, James Mananghaya, Jaime Laude, Roel Pareño