Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Crackers

So it seems that the smoke residue from the firecrackers in Metro Manila last New Years Day was so thick that a plane had to divert its landing from NAIA to Clark. When it gets to be that bad, you just have to see that something is wrong; but why can't we see it?

I've never quite understood the Filipino fetish behind firecrackers. In my younger days, I'd throw a stick or two, but I never got the thrill. Dad wanted to start that New Year tradition in our household with a moderate amount of pyrotechnics. That plan got nipped in the bud when our neighbors on either side brought out arsenals enough to kick off World War III. After that, well, Dad reasoned that we'd just ride along with their racket. All the evil spirits would have been scared out of the neighborhood from the noise both houses made.

Ah, yes, the evil spirit business. The Filipino firecracker tradition ostensibly traces its roots back to the Chinese influence. But as with all things Chinese, the firecrackers were meant to be a token symbol, not a deadly ritual. If anything, I suspect the "tradition" would have been a ploy to sell one more item during the holidays. Somewhere along the way, the one-upmanship crept in, and Juan just had to have a bigger bang than Pedro.

That arms race to stupid has brought us monstrosities like "Goodbye, Philippines", a giant triangle with a side as long as a man's forearm. "Goodbye, Philippines" featured prominently in TV broadcasts in the week leading to New Year, but can anyone doubt that "Goodbye, Universe" would be bigger? But the dubious honor for the largest firecracker this year goes to something called "Ampatuan." You can understand why media didn't pick on that story. Talk about evil spirits.

Every year, the government spends hundreds of thousands of pesos campaigning against the use of firecrackers, and about just as much treating the dunderheads who went and used them anyway. Lost digits and limbs aside, firecrackers pose poisoning and pulmonary hazards. Firecrackers are also at the center of many fires. Deaths revolving around firecrackers last year included a young boy who got caught in a blast while delivering a box of "Goodbye, Philippines" with his father.

If firecrackers (and the monstrous proportions they've attained in the Philippines) are so dangerous, it seems that the only logical recourse is to ban them altogether. But of course, that's never going to happen because (all together now): "what will happen to the livelihoods of all the people who make firecrackers?"

And despite all the warnings, why do many Pinoys insist on lighting up? I suppose its for the same reason that we build houses on sandbars in a flood-prone river, or slip into Iraq for work despite travel bans, or carry that package "from a friend" into China. Because we're invincible. We're...

No firecracker injuries were reported in Davao, which has a ban on the sale and use of firecrackers.