DAVAO CITY (MindNews/31 December) – While the rest of the country is still grappling with how to celebrate Christmas and the New Year safely, Davao City has just celebrated its 15th year of welcoming Christmas and will welcome 2016 with no firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices, and no firing of guns.
Dabawenyos greeted Christmas midnight by blowing party horns, banging pots and pans, doing videoke sing-along and going village dancing and will greet the New Year in similar fashion, although some residents will troop downtown to be part of the Torotot Festival, the city’s countdown to 2016.
For 15 years now, personnel at the health and fire departments have been the envy of their counterparts in other parts of the country who are busy attending to injuries from firecrackers and stray bullets, or saving houses and business establishments from fire.
Before the ban on firecrackers and pyrotechnics in Christmas of 2001, Davao City was like other cities in the country – a virtual war zone on Christmas eve and New Year’s eve.
In fact, the Catholic church had to move to an earlier time what was supposed to be a traditional “midnight mass” precisely to ensure the safety of churchgoers.
Not only was it unsafe to be on the road, it was also unsafe to be at home as the possibility of fire incidents from firecracker blasts was high.
Death from stray bullets was another problem that went away with the successful ban on firecrackers. Before 2001, those who fired guns into the air to “celebrate” took advantage of the firecracker blasts to hide their crime.
With no firecrackers exploding, no one could dare fire a gun.
Before the ban, trainer and development consultant Millet Aviles Ty and husband Mateo spent Christmas and New Year with their children in a high-rise hotel downtown to avoid injuries or death from firecracker explosions and stray bullets, and to avoid asthma attacks from inhaling gunpowder smoke.
Death, injury, fire, asthma attacks were problems residnets had to contend with. And the morning of Christmas and New Year would find the streets littered with garbage from scraps and firecracker casings.
Ban ahead of ordinance
Curiously, the city ordinance banning firecrackers was actually passed only in late 2002, almost a year since the ban was first enforced.
But Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is running for President and who has expressed his intent to push for a nationwide ban if he gets elected, banned the sale of firecrackers and pyrotechnics during the Christmas season in 2001 by not issuing business permits to vendors and malls intending to sell these. He said the money for fireworks would be better spent on food. He also announced a P5,000 bounty for anyone who could pinpoint anyone firing a gun during the merrymaking.
It was a quiet Christmas in 2001. Truly a “silent night, holy night.” And so was New Year 2002.
Instead of shouting across the table during the “noche buena” because firecrackers were exploding here and there, families were now talking to one another.
Over the years, residents have found other ways of celebrating with no firecracker explosions, such as the Torotot Festival which was first held on December 31, 2013 and every December 31 thereafter.
Residents from neighboring cities who want to escape from firecracker explosions in their areas have also taken to spending Christmas and the New Year in Davao City.
City Ordinance 060-02, enacted by the City Council on October 15, 2002 and approved by Mayor Duterte on November 6, prohibits the manufacture, sale, distribution, possession, or use of firecrackers or pyrotechnic devices “or such other similar devices within the territory of Davao City.”
The ban is not just for Christmas and New Year but also during the celebration of the Chinese New Year and the Muslims’ Eid’l Fitr (end of Ramadhan).
When Davao City hosted the Tourism Forum in 2006, organizers had to do the fireworks display in the Island Garden City of Samal, across the Davao Gulf.
And because flying in the fireworks was a no-no in Davao City, the pyrotechnic materials had to be flown in via Butuan City and from there transported by land to Panabo City in Davao del Norte, some four hours away.
From Panabo, which is located at the boundary with Davao City, the pyrotechnic materials were transported by boat to Samal City across Davao City.
The ordinance penalizes first offenders with a fine of P1,000 or imprisonment of 20 to 30 days, or both; second offenders with a fine of P3,000 or imprisonment of from one to three months or both; and third offenders, a fine of P5,000 or imprisonment of from three to six months, or both.
Managers or owners of business establishments caught violating the ordinance will also be held liable and their business permits cancelled on the third offense. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)