GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 2 January) – For the last several years, I had let the old and new years come and go with shrugs – the bangs and the booms not disturbing my midnight peace. I never liked the powder smoke to stimulate my asthma or a stray bullet to kiss my head. But last Tuesday, I became curious; I monitored the ritual.
What I write here refers only to the ritual as I heard and saw in my place, a stretch of dry lands with forests and roaring rivers 74 years ago. How the new came and the old went is from my perspective – its similarity or difference from how the ritual unfolded in the other parts of the country being merely incidental. And, so is my modest proposal.
No firecracker ban exists in General Santos City. All people here, in particular my neighbors in my 74-year-old Lagao, are free to explode anything including their heads – within the limits of their willingness to empty their pockets to satisfy their hunger for the bangs, booms, bangs.
The late afternoon and the early evening were silent like in any ordinary day. This early in past years – years and years past – scattered bangs, booms, bangs were a prelude to the fiery midnight concert punctuated by rat-a-tat-tats and thundering, shuddering booms. Was the unusual silence the signal of a song never sang before, “Silent New Year”?
Towards midnight, solitary bangs, booms, bangs began – within the hour, coming in minute intervals. At the last quarter of the last hour, I went out of my study to see the midnight. Only a faint powder smell greeted me with flashes of the bangs, booms and bangs – but not that deafening, just a thud compared to memories of past thundering new years. Together with some fireworks multi-coloring the skies, they proclaim the spirit that will forever live.
I think the rising costs of the bangs, booms, bangs have taken a toll on the traditional celebration of the New Year and the Christmas nights. More than ever, given their freedom, people are still willing to risk life and limbs but their pockets are getting shallower and shallower by the year. Time was when the cost of a firecracker did not factor into their media noche plate. Not now!
Time was when a firecracker was just that – “spit fire” and “cracked”. Merrymakers pinched crackers at the lower rim whirling them above their heads while “spitting fire” then “cracking”. No harm; just fun!
But firecrackers have grown stronger and stronger – not just “cracking” but “exploding”. And they also have become costlier and costlier, more and more dangerous to life and limbs. In reality, firecracker manufacturing has become a major explosive industry – like tobacco and liquor, an evil but necessary for the employment and taxes it generates.
The New Year I witnessed must be “tame” compared to the revelries in Metro Manila and other places in Luzon. Despite the ban on lethal types of “firecrackers” and the firing of guns, the injuries and deaths this year were reported to be more than last year. A three-month-old baby in Ilocos Sur was killed in his crib by a “stray” bullet. What paradox: merrymaking cum man-made calamity!
To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To ban or not to ban is question.” In reality, it is not a question. In 2002, Davao City Mayor Digoy “Killjoy” Duterte imposed a total ban on everything that “cracks” or “explodes” including live ammunition from guns in the “city and farms” of the entire Davao City on Christmas, New Year and other festivities. From reports, for 12 years now the complete banishment of the “joy that kills” has been greatly appreciated – the “joy” not missed, the “kill” avoided.
Has the entire Philippines have to be Davao City? That is an extremely ambitious proposal! How many have guts – many call it “balls” – like those Mayor Digoy, even to the displeasure of human rights advocates. Certainly, even the President lacks them.
Here’s a modest proposal. Ban all – repeat, ALL – types of “firecrackers cum explosives”; they are the danger to life and limbs. Allow only the pyrotechnics. These may not be affordable to all. But let the spirit of merrymaking be also the spirit of merry-sharing – the “full-pockets” sharing their blessings with the “empty-pockets”.
In the spirit of the seasons, let Christmas and New Year’s eves be the time for pyrotechnic festivals or “Pyro Fests”. Local governments can sponsor them with modest prizes. In cities and big population centers, big sponsors can be tapped with big prizes. This can encourage creativity among Filipinos.
Some taxes and employments will be lost. As the saying goes, “Lose some, gain some”.
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)