With what is now cliché reporting of fires, injuries, and deaths resulting from firecracker accidents and stray bullets, New Year’s Day is becoming the most predictably dangerous day of the year in the Philippines.
In my hometown Surigao City, where I spent the recent holidays, people welcomed 2013 with the usual fireworks display and celebratory gunfire. While it woke me up right in time for the media noche, it also got me disoriented as I thought for a moment that I was in Syria.
I wanted everyone to evacuate to the ground floor to be safe from stray bullets like I did in past New Year’s eve celebrations. But the midnight feast was already spread on the table on the second floor of my parents’ house and some of us had already started eating.
I thought I might be acting like a Doomsday prepper and thus gave in to the typical Pinoy bahala na (come what may) tendency like everyone else. “Que sera, sera/ Whatever will be will be…” That song ran in my mind as the night’s soundtrack.
Yet no sooner than I began helping myself to a slice of ham, we heard the gunfire. First were the single shots from what sounded like a 9 mm pistol. Later, in between the louder explosions of firecrackers and the roar of motor engines from the stationary vehicles of neighbors, came the familiar crackle of an M16 assault rifle. It was too late to run for cover and nobody seemed bothered as we were all focused on digging into the ham and spaghetti and engaging in family banter.
In the morning, when everything seemed eerily quiet, my father turned on the radio and it blared with live reports from the local hospitals and police stations. Aside from the usual injuries resulting from firecracker accidents, two kids were reported to have been hit by stray bullets.
One child was spreading bihon noodles on a sandwich when a bullet pierced her hand. Another child was hit in the head and was in critical condition at the public hospital’s intensive care unit. The announcer echoed the plea of the victim’s father, a tricycle driver, to help them pay for the cost of surgery and other hospital bills.
I never heard these incidents from Surigao included in the reports of victims of stray bullets on national TV, which reached about 40 cases. This made me think that there may be more victims than the announced national statistics.
The incidents in Surigao disproved the assurances made the day before New Year’s by my cousin Bobby who, true to the Brit sense of his name, is a local policeman. He said that he is pretty sure that his colleagues would not fire their weapons whose muzzles, sealed with countersigned masking tape, would be checked for tampering by their chief the next day.
I could vouch for Bob who is quite popular in the fishing village where he lives, with his sideline business running an Internet shop and a small beach cottage where he also rents out a speedboat for leisure trips. Sometimes, my cousin, who has no children, would give the kids who were his suki in the Internet shop a free ride on his speedboat. That day before New Year’s, he and his wife were preparing to give a party for kids in the neighborhood.
While my cop cousin is not trigger-happy, I could not be sure about the guys who fired a pistol and the M16 near our place on New Year’s eve. They could be men in uniform who own an extra assault rifle aside from their service weapon.
Or they could be ordinary civilians like that guy in Cavite who went on a rampage last Friday, shooting his .45 caliber pistol at everyone who came his way. He left eight people dead and nine others wounded before he was killed in a shootout with the police. That’s a gruesome addition to the number of dead and injured in gun-related accidents in just the first few days of the year.
Now that’s the Filipino way of greeting the New Year with a bang. It certainly makes New Year’s Day in the Philippines less fun as we continue to practice this stupidity we call tradition. And it all starts with the ignorance of the law of gravity.