Cops, docs brace for New Year’s ‘big bang’
Incidents of injuries from stray bullets have been increasing with the coming of the New Year, an indication that trigger-happy gun owners, including policemen, have not learned their lessons of people who died from stray bullets in past New Year revelries.
The Department of Health (DOH) had recorded 262 revelry-related injuries as of 6 a.m. Tuesday, including three new cases of stray bullet injuries.
The new victims included a 40-year-old woman, who sustained a stray bullet injury on her left thigh while standing in front of her house in Barangay (village) Holy Spirit, Quezon City.
“Barangay Holy Spirit was listed as one of the most dangerous places in Quezon City,” Assistant Health Secretary Enrique Tayag said.
A 37-year-old man from Rodriguez, Rizal province, was hit by a stray bullet on his right shoulder, while a 28-year-old man from Marikina City also sustained stray bullet injuries on his right leg, the DOH report said.
The DOH recorded five injuries due to stray bullets on Dec. 30.
Last year, two children were killed by stray bullets while more than 400 people were injured.
The deaths had triggered widespread public calls for stricter gun controls in a country with a thriving black market for guns where unlicensed pistols can be bought for as little as P4,400.
Three policemen were arrested for illegal discharge of their service firearms, the Philippine National Police on Tuesday said.
Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP public information office chief, said police recorded seven incidents of indiscriminate firing in different parts of the country while at least 12 persons were reported hit by stray bullets.
A policeman in Western Visayas was arrested by his colleagues after he was suspected of firing the shot that hit a victim of a stray bullet, Sindac said.
He said two other PNP personnel had also been held in Eastern Visayas and Bicol region for indiscriminate firing.
“They were charged with administrative and criminal cases. If found guilty, they will be dismissed from the service,” Sindac told the Inquirer on the phone.
As of 6 a.m. of Dec. 31, the number of people injured had increased from 244 to 262, according to the “Aksyon: Paputok Injury Reduction 2013” report of the DOH-National Epidemiology Center. The center started recording cases on Dec. 21.
The latest figure was 17 percent higher than the average from 2008-2012.
It was 27 percent higher compared with the same period last year, which had 207 cases, including 204 from fireworks, one from fireworks ingestion and two from stray bullets.
Tayag earlier said the figures might surpass previous records as the DOH braced itself to accommodate 50 to 80 injuries every hour during the 12-hour period from 6 p.m. of Dec. 31 to 6 a.m. of Jan. 1.
There is a belief that making noise to welcome the New Year drives evil spirits away and ushers in good luck.
But many take go to the extreme by firing guns into the air and letting off powerful firecrackers despite a government ban.
By law shops are only allowed to stock small fireworks but many still sell large ones that could maim or kill if not handled properly.
And on Tuesday, last-minute customers were rushing to buy their supplies, ignoring government calls for solemn celebrations.
“It will not be complete without firecrackers. It’s a family tradition and we can’t stop, doing it just like that,” said Jepy Roxas after buying boxes of powerful firecrackers.
The DOH said 253 of the 262 cases were due to firecrackers and one was due to firecracker ingestion. No deaths were reported.
Most of the cases (127 or 48 percent) were from Metro Manila, the majority of which occurred in Manila.
Of the 253 firecracker-related injuries, 164 or 65 percent were caused by the “piccolo,” an illegal type of firecracker.
Most of the victims were males (221), 79 of them children below 10 years old.
The DOH report said an 8-year-old boy from Cebu lost his right hand after lighting a “rebentador” (firecracker).
Joseph Baluyot, head nurse at Mandaluyong City Medical Center, said 13 patients, mostly children, were admitted to the emergency room from Dec. 25 up to the morning of Dec. 31.
Most of the patients, he said, sustained injuries from the piccolo, which the government has banned.
Piccolo, the DOH said in a report, was also the same type of firecracker that injured the most number of people in 2011.
Apparently, the gory images of injured people, or worse, losing a body part, in the media still do not faze some Mandaluyong residents.
Ernesto Licentes, who lives with his siblings in Barangay Poblacion in Mandaluyong, for example, said that he still had plans of buying fireworks that emit “really loud sounds” to welcome 2014.
“It wouldn’t be New Year without the fireworks. Don’t we have to celebrate the New Year with a bang?” he said with a laugh, adding he would still have to consult his siblings about the kinds of fireworks they would use when the clock strikes midnight.
Told about the government’s campaign against the use of fireworks, Licentes shrugged. “Wala. We can’t do without (them). (Without firecrackers), that would be really boring,” he said.
Angelica, one of his sisters, agreed. Angelica said it was customary for the Licentes household to use fireworks in welcoming the new year because all its members were superstitious.
“We believe that if you don’t welcome the new year properly, you will end up having less blessings for that year,” she said.
She said the household had been using fireworks ever since she and her siblings were little, and nothing bad has happened to any of them.
Licentes, for his part, added that all family members were “very careful” in using the fireworks that they buy. “It’s up to you how you use them,” he said.
At Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center, the situation seemed better.
According to PJ Mabalot, emergency room staff nurse, no patients had been admitted to the hospital for injuries sustained from fireworks-related injuries.
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