I remember how we used to greet the New Year with the varied fireworks Papa used to buy around the city. Towards midnight, he would invite me and my sisters to watch the kwitis (or small colored mini-rockets that shoot in to the sky when ignited) or the more dangerous-looking whistle bomb (which, more than its name suggests, sounds more thunderous than a whistle or a bomb). As compensation for the mixed fears or enjoyment my sisters and I would feel after becoming his spectators, he would lend the barely ten-year-old me a strange-looking stick that had some sort of magic on it—a moving string of light that hissed rather inaudibly at the top as I held the stick in my tiny fingers.
Even after the clock would strike 12, the neighbours from around the compound would continue to display their assorted collection of firecrackers, of fountains and rockets of all sorts. My family and I would enjoy watching the colourful panoramas painted gleefully in the once black sky. And then different horns would blow. And then come shouts from either side. New Year would always be a loud celebration among the people. It is a fun event, until we wake up in the morning and see the aftermath of such festivity that is.
After rising from bed, I would get up on my scrawny little legs and go outside only to breathe in air perfumed with the foul odor of gunpowder. In our front yard an endless stream of long sticks scatter around. My stubborn self would pick them up with my even more stubborn sister and pretend that we were having a swordfight. We would then be reprimanded by our parents for playing with fireworks residues—for that’s what those long sticks were. Debris from last night’s fireworks display from around the neighbourhood that have found their way in our property.
Later that day, my Mama would turn on the television set to watch the news. And then photos of bloody hands and amputated arms and legs would appear. Reports of death incidents regarding ignorant uses of firecrackers fill the screen. Death tolls from across the country would rise every hour.
The Filipinos thought there would never be an end to this annual pattern, until just recently.
Less than a year after the new president took his seat, he signed an executive order regarding the regulation and control of the use of firecrackers. Fireworks like kwitis and labintador can no longer be used in households, but allowed in city-wide displays. This proved to be quite the efficient solution to the problem.
An evidence of this is 2018’s New Year celebration. The air in the morning of January 1 was clean, and so was the television’s morning news.