Big bangs
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2019 - 12:00am

It was a year of fireworks. The Supreme Court, after the previous impeachment episodes against Chief Justices Hilario Davide and Renato Corona, was again ground zero. We already knew that there was no job security for Chief Justices when political departments unite in their challenge. This time, a bigger lesson. There is no job security in being Chief Justice, period. Ma. Lourdes Sereno learned this too late.

We witnessed the explosive displays of bitterness or of righteousness, depending on the side you identify with. It wasn’t our first time to be caught in the crossfire of such fussilades of acrimony. We are used to seeing that inter-department. Time and again, contempt can replace courtesy in the relations of the branches.  

But up until last year, no one had ever seen it intra-department – within the Judiciary. Even in this age of wonder and overwhelming information, we were surprised at our capacity for surprise. Not since the ides of march or the night of the long knives has there been such a collection of educated assassins or patriots (again, depending on your side) to carry out their terrible verdict.

Ultimately, it will be the lens of history we will lean on to make sense of the events of  2018. For now, we are left to our own personal impressions on whether the Sereno ouster was more explosion than implosion.

The stockpile. Inter-department fireworks, as we noted, are a more familiar sight. First day back at work and our Congressmen are already busy with their demolition job of Senior Cabinet member, Sec. Benjamin Diokno. Inured as we have become to the ways of politics, we can still be surprised at the sight of both the majority and minority leaders setting aside differences against a common adversary. We anticipate the counter-attack of the good Secretary and his giant bodyguard, after a chance to clarify all these ugly questions. Checks and balances can be so reassuring.

Like their Padre Faura co-equals, the House had its own intra-department firecracker display in the Speakership and Minority Leader coups. In this most political of branches, leadership skirmishes have become prosaic. But the 2018 edition was something out of the blue. We surprised even ourselves at the depths our regard for politics could sink seeing how the infernal, internal wranglings of the Congressmen waited for no SONA. Even the gallery of officials and guests plus the diplomatic corps were not spared. And what of the audience of millions on TV and media?

Fireball at the Palace. Malacanang is the only place in government where the capacity for surprise has totally vanished. We are no longer shocked when the President says or does something inappropriate. Neither are we astonished when he is virtuous.  Rodrigo Roa Duterte is capable of both good and bad behavior and this is what continues to perplex us. Whether its PRRD vs. the Church or vs. the Yellows or vs. the Reds, it’s the clash between the good Rody and the bad Rody that keeps us awake at night.

Put blasts in the past. Stories of firecracker victims continue to crowd media outlets. There have been at least 288 firecracker, fireworks and pyrotechnics related injuries this season. Particularly galling are the accounts of children ingesting the firecrackers.

The inevitable next question should be: will we see 288 cases filed of violation of R.A. 7183, the firecracker regulation law?

Back in June of 2017, PRRD issued Executive Order No. 28 confining firecracker use to community fireworks display “to minimize the risk of injuries and casualties.” The unabated annual toll on our physical and mental wellbeing ignites the debate: is it now time to consider an absolute ban?

Damp squib. During the last “moment of reckoning,” when it passed RA 7183 back in 1992, Congress made its choice. It refused to prohibit the trade outright, fearing a  retreat into smuggling or further unregulated, underground manufacture and proliferation. They left it to the Philippine National Police to decide what to allow and who to permit. 

Industry self-regulatory bodies such as the Philippine Pyrotechnics Manufacturers and Dealers Association and the Bulacan Pyrotechnics Regulation Board were supposed to provide added layers of protection.

But even they were unable to avert the continued, annual week of slaughter. The sad reality staring us in the face is that this is totally preventable.

Worst burst. Yes there has been a 43 percent decrease in firecracker related injuries from the same period last year, according to Health Sec. Francisco Duque III. There is allowance, however, for the rains as a major cause for the decline. But 288 (at last count) is still far from a zero casualty rate. This failure to totally arrest the injuries begs the question.

In this policy area, it appears that local government units may be better suited to lead with area concentrated prohibitions. The entire nation is aware of Davao City’s success story. We are amazed by the Quirino and Southern Leyte locales where despite availability of firecrackers, they have zero casualties. Baguio City, which adopted their own absolute ban 4 years ago, tallied an impressive zero percent firework casualty this New Year’s eve.

The use of firecrackers to celebrate the New Year and other important events is ingrained in our culture, thanks to our Chinese forebears. Our neighboring countries have the same festive traditions but they have now mostly bought into the community fireworks display by professionals model. It seems that we are the only ones insisting on exposing ourselves to the certain harm of allowing firecrackers and fireworks to be handled by the public.

Outright prohibition leads to an “explosion” of smuggled firecrackers and a black market of even more dangerous products. This has been the experience abroad and the experience even during our own Martial law days. I don’t know about them but we have a PRRD. Perhaps its time to consider the option now that we have the architect of the Davao city success story in the palace.

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