MANILA, Philippines—Ahead of the New Year revelry, President Aquino ordered police officials, on Sunday, to throw the book at revelers exploding banned firecrackers and shut down shops selling these contraband for good.
The President specifically reminded Philippine National Police Director General Allan Purisima to highlight the charges filed against violators of Republic Act 7183 and the penalties meted out to them to show the government’s “seriousness.’’
But Mr. Aquino indicated that apart from charging revelers with violation of RA 7183, which regulates the sale, manufacture, distribution and use of firecrackers and pyrotechnics, the PNP should explore filing charges of damage to property if the firecrackers became destructive.
During PowerPoint presentations by different agencies on their preparations for New Year, Mr. Aquino had been particularly struck by the image of a huge 16-inch by 16-inch triangular firecracker, called “Goodbye Philippines.’’
He wondered if that powerful cracker could damage concrete roads, and Purisima said yes.
“We should then explore [the charge] of damage to public property,’’ Mr. Aquino said, pointing out that the Department of Justice should have been present at the briefing.
After being told this was seized from a store in Bulacan, the firecrackers’ manufacturing capital, without a permit, the President ordered local government officials to take the concerned local government unit to task for this. “Why was something like this allowed to happen?’’ he said.
What came as a surprise was the finding by the Department of Health that piccolo was the source of injuries of 59 percent of children. Piccolo sells P10 to P15 a box. While they’re labeled as manufactured in Bulacan, they were smuggled in from China, officials said.
“Fifty-nine percent of children are getting injured because of this brand. It’s called piccolo. It’s considered banned because it’s actually imported,’’ Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa said in his presentation.
“As you can see, it’s `Made in Bulacan’. We don’t have something `Made in Bulacan’, it’s [supposed to be] Made in the Philippines. So this actually comes from China and so this is actually smuggled in and it’s sold in the streets for P15—about P10 to P15 pesos for 20 sticks,’’ he added.
The President wondered how children could “surreptitiously’’ buy them despite a ban.
Since Dec. 21 onwards, the Department of Health has received reports of 171 cases of fire-work related injury. “We’re going lower than the previous year. But we cannot give a final (conclusion) until after Jan. 5. But it’s like it has plateaued already,’’ Herbosa said.
The President also made clear to Purisima that manufacturers, retailers and dealers of banned firecrackers should be made to pay, not only through the closure of their shops but also through the revocation of their permits.
He asked: “Is there permanent banning from engaging in this business again if you sell all the banned items?’’ He observed that the penalty of six to 12 months’ imprisonment or a fine of P20,000 to P30,000 or both was “very low.’’
Purisima replied: “…(A)ctually we can confiscate everything, and close the shop. That’s the order I’ve given the regional directors.’’
When Mr. Aquino pressed if this meant that the shop would not be reopened, the PNP chief said that their permits would be revoked. And just to be sure, Mr. Aquino said the PNP should inform local government units of their action against these violators to prevent the issuance of new permits under a different name.
Mr. Aquino also instructed Purisima to highlight the cases filed against violators and the status of these cases in the media.
“What’s important in the post-New Year’s event. There should be publicity of all the cases that had been filed, and status. We have to show we’re serious especially against indiscriminate firing of guns and explosion of firecrackers,’’ he said. “We have to show some are punished. We can’t call a time-out here where anyone can violate the law at around 11 p.m.’’
He said the campaign against firecrackers should begin by the last quarter of the year.
The President expressed disbelief at PNP data showing that shops were shut down only in one province, while the rest seemed to have complied with the law.
“I think Allan, our counter-intelligence should be vetting all these regions also,’’ he said, addressing Purisima. “I think you should call up everybody once again and tell them, `I just noticed that there were many inspections, and yet we have piccolo…’ If they didn’t actually do these inspections, that’s one-strike.’’
So far, government hospitals have sufficient stocks of medicines for injuries during celebrations welcoming the New Year.
The President also instructed Local Government officials to share with the other LGUs the wisdom of ordinances adopted by Quezon City and Davao City banning firecrackers, sharply cutting down the sale of firecrackers and cases of injuries.
The President’s message was to “put a stop to the manufacture, transport and sale on the prohibited ones,’’ Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras said.
“We’ll know when the numbers come out on Jan. 5,’’ Almendras said on whether Mr. Aquino was satisfied with the measures of the different agencies.
“If the numbers will be better than last year then, good; if it’s not, then there’s nothing we can do of it. You know, what we need to do is to make sure it’s gonna be lower in the future years. So we must learn from the experience. The President called this meeting because he wanted to emphasize that he’s quite serious about these things,’’ he added.
A proposal from Maj. Renato Marcial of the Bureau of Fire and Protection for a total ban on firecrackers, a major cause of fire, would be discussed, Almendras said. Fire officials are also discouraging the use of sky lanterns.