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'FEAR OF DIGONG' | President a factor in fireworks injuries being reduced to 10-year low

Police confiscate illegal firecrackers on New Year's Eve 2016. BOY SANTOS, PHILSTAR
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - For the first time in the last 10 years of continuous surveillance of fireworks-related injuries (FWRI) as of New Year’s Eve (December 31) revelries, more Filipino lives were spared from deadly and injurious firecrackers this time around, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Sunday.

And, in the view of Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, fears that President Rodrigo Duterte would harshly punish revellers who celebrate the New Year with firecrackers caused the "remarkable" decline in injuries.

The Philippines indulges in an annual orgy of New Year's Eve merrymaking that leaves hundreds maimed as people set off firecrackers and fire guns in the air in a loud and raucous overnight celebration. 

In a press briefing held at the DOH media relations unit (MRU) in Sta. Cruz, Manila, Ubial said that as of 6 a.m. of Jan. 1, 2017, a total of 350 fireworks-related injuries were recorded by DOH sentinel sites.

"This is 520 cases or 60 percent lower than the five-year (2011-2015) average and 524 or 60 percent lower compared to the same time period last year," said Ubial.

Ubial said injuries during this year's revelry were the lowest in 10 years after Duterte said he was considering repeating a ban on firecrackers which he implemented when mayor of his southern home town of Davao.

"People are now afraid to light firecrackers because of the president," Ubial said. 

"They have this impression that somehow they will get caught or they will be punished." 

Ubial said 350 were injured by firecrackers and fireworks this year compared to a 10-year average of 1,000. 

Duterte last month said he would issue an order to ban people from using firecrackers, limiting their use to community fireworks displays. 

"The least that I can say or do is just to issue a warning that it's very, very dangerous," he said pending the order's release. 

Duterte said he was concerned about children, who make up most of the victims. 

Ubial said the trend continued this year, with a three-year-old suffering a hand injury at Cabanatuan in central Luzon.

The worst case involved a 15-year-old girl, who slipped into a coma after a stray bullet hit her head while she was watching a fireworks display in Manila's neighboring district of Malabon.

"This is one of our saddest incidents," Ubial said. 

"Even if it's now down to 350 (injuries), that is still a lot of misery." 

Ubial attributed the “remarkable decline” seen in the last 10 years to the collective campaign through the help of the media, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and local government units on the conduct of community fireworks display.

The 60 percent reduction in the number of firecracker-related injuries covered the period of December 21, 2016 to 6 a.m. of January 1, 2017.

Though counting will continue and stop by January 5, still, there can be some changes in the figures after, she said.

"This is the lowest figure, but only as of January 1. The number of injuries will continue to be tallied until January 5," she added.

Eighty-four percent of the cases are males. The youngest is two years old while the oldest is 71.

"A large majority of the cases are below 15 years old or 58 percent," she said.

Blast without amputation was recorded at 83 percent.

She said eye injuries were high, comprising about 18 percent.

There were five cases of blast with amputation among males.

Two of them were passive users -- three and eight years old. The other three were active users, ages six, 23, and 33.

"What is very sad is the case number 3, three years old from Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija on December 30… The case was passive meaning the child was just watching or a bystander and not using," she said.

There were 121 passive users or 35 percent; while active users is 65 percent.

She added that legal fireworks also caused injuries comprising 40 percent; unknown is 5 percent.

Some of the legal fireworks are kwitis, luces and fountains.

Illegal fireworks are still the highest cause of injuries.

Piccolo remains as the most common cause of injuries with 132 cases (38 percent); while Boga caused 18 cases (5 percent). Both are illegal firecrackers.

The hand is usually the most affected while other injuries were recorded on other body parts such head, eyes, abdomen because there are firecrackers coming out of nowhere and hitting the victims in any other parts of the body including foot.

Two cases of ingestions were also recorded among children but these patients were both managed and sent home.

Most of the cases came from National Capital Region (NCR), recording about 211 cases (60 percent).

It was followed by Western Visayas with 34 cases (10 percent) and Central Luzon with 29 cases (8 percent).

In NCR, majority of the injuries took place in the City of Manila with 81 cases. Next is Quezon City with 48 case while Marikina ranks third with 23 cases.

She said this 'piece of good news" will not stop them from pushing for the Executive Order to ban firecrackers as they aim for further reduction of injuries by ensuring that community fireworks display will be promoted by every LGU and designated areas will be followed strictly on the use of firecrackers.

Meanwhile, she added also that while they are reporting a good news on the decline of cases, she said that another case of stray-bullet incidence marred the New Year's Eve reverly when a 15 year-old girl was struck by a stray bullet in Malabon City.

The Health chief was saddened as she personally visited the patient at Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila.

Health officials earlier repeatedly appealed to gun users and owners to avoid indiscriminate firing as they emphasized that every life save from preventable ways is very important.

A total of four stray-bullet cases were recorded by DOH as of this date.