Davao City: 13th Christmas and New Year without fireworks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 Dec) — Before the ban on firecrackers and pyrotechnics was imposed in Davao City Christmas of 2001, trainer and development consultant Millet Aviles Ty and husband Mateo would spend Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve 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.

Like other cities in the country, Davao City was a virtual battlefield Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  Not only was it unsafe to be on the road, it was also unsafe to be at home.

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.

Ty says before the ban, merrymaking during Christmas, as well as the New Year,  was a time she feared. “The firecrackers were becoming more powerful and ‘violent.’ it was scary walking downtown, and going to and from the misa de gallo, as anyone could just throw a firecracker in front of you, or there would be ‘runaway’ firecrackers.”

Death, injury, fire, asthma attacks were problems they had to contend with. And so was garbage.

“In the morning, we would find our road littered with scraps from the firecracker casings. Since the ban, our streets have become safer, and we don’t miss the noise and smoke and garbage that they create,” she recalls.

13th year in 2013

This year is the 13th Christmas without firecrackers and pyrotechnics in Davao City.

It is also the 13th year where health and fire department personnel are the envy of their counterparts in other parts of the country who are busy attending to firecracker-related injuries or saving houses and establishments from fire.

Curiously, the city ordinance banning firecrackers was actually passed only in 2002.

But Mayor Rodrigo Duterte 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.

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.”

Since the ban, the city has recorded zero injury and zero death from firecracker blasts.

Beyond Christmas and New Year

The ban is not limited only to Christmas and New Year. Firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices are banned as well in the celebration of the Chinese New Year and the Muslims’ Eid’l Fitr (end of Ramadhan).

During the ASEAN Tourism Forum which the city hosted in 2006, the display of fireworks was not allowed so 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 until Panabo City in Davao del Norte, some four hours away.

From Panabo, which is located at the boundary with Davao City, the pyrotechnic materials had to be 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.

Making noise safely

Joel del Corro, president of Migara Consulting and Training Services, moved his family to Davao City in 2005 and were “shocked” at their first Christmas celebration here.

“We were shocked! Ngeh! Parang ang laki ng kulang! But in the succeeding years, we had to be more creative… drove around with lata  (can) tied to the car, shouting Happy New year at the top of our voices… I personally take pride in the fact that we here in Davao can discipline ourselves. I feel more safe moving around knowing I won’t get hit by bullets or firecrackers randomly thrown or fired. The speed limit, smoking ban and firecracker ban – they make me confident there is hope for us Filipinos.”

Ty admits she misses the pyrotechnics. “We wish that the city government would have one big fireworks show for everyone on New Year’s eve at least. But if you really want fireworks, Samal island is a short hop across.”

But one doesn’t even have to cross over to Samal. Residents facing the island city can watch the fireworks display from where they are or they can join the countdown party in a seaside hotel and watch the spectacle from there.

“Torotot Festival”

Instead of selling firecrackers and pyrotechnics,  street vendors have been selling “torotots” or party blowers since Christmas 2001.

On New Year’s Eve, Smart Communications is gathering 10,000 Dabawenyos to join the 1st Torotot Festival and make it to the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of  party blowers.

The current record is Japan’s 6,900.

“We hope to make this an annual event in Davao City like the New York Countdown,” Smart regional sales manager for South Mindanao Arnold Dellosa said.

Patricia Sarenas, chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development Networks (Mincode) said that since the no-fireworks celebration of Christmas and New Year in 2001, “we have been blessed to have more quiet time to celebrate the birth of our Savior.”

“It’s become something we are so used to and something we are very proud of.  My family and I can’t imagine ourselves ever celebrating Christmas any other way.  The sounds of joyous Christmas carols, of heartfelt greetings and of thanksgiving for material and non-material gifts – these are the sounds that make us feel how special this season is and how blessed we all are!” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews. This piece was first published in the December 23 issue of OUR Mindanao, the weekly newsmagazine published by the MindaNews Co-op)