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Philippines: Duterte’s Drug War Brings New Year’s Firecracker Injuries to 10-Year Low

The Philippines recorded a 60 percent drop in the number of firecracker-related injuries this New Year’s Eve, good news the nation’s health secretary attributes to fears of attracting police attention following President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated claims he will pardon police who kill suspects on the job.

Detonating firecrackers is a popular way to ring in the new year in the Philippines, though many of the easiest explosives to acquire are dangerous and often lead to severe burns and other injuries. The nation averages 1,000 injuries a year involving firecrackers between the last day of the old year and the first day of the new one, according to the Agence France-Presse. By the end of Sunday, however, Manila documented only 350 injuries of this nature nationwide, two involving consumption of the explosives.

“People are now afraid to light firecrackers because of the president,” Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told reporters. “They have this impression that somehow they will get caught or they will be punished.”

Officials described the decline in firecracker accidents as “remarkable.”

Duterte, who took office in June 2016, won the presidency by promising a strict law and order presidency in which police would be fully empowered to combat the nation’s rampant drug trade. Duterte offered a bounty to anyone who killed or apprehended drug suspects and has repeatedly promised to exonerate police who kill civilians suspected, but not charged, with drug-related crimes. Duterte has also claimed to have personally killed people as mayor of Davao City that he suspected of engaging in drug crimes and thrown people out of helicopters. Last month, Duterte threatened to burn down the United Nations headquarters in New York.

His rhetoric has resulted in most Philippine nationals fretting for their lives. A December poll by the statistics firm Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that 78 percent of Filipinos are either “somewhat worried” or “very worried” about being killed by police. As a testament to how dire the drug situation remains in the Philippines, 85 percent of respondents said they approved of the drug war, giving Duterte an “excellent” approval rating.

CNN Philippines cites the “piccolo” variety of firecrackers as the most dangerous and responsible for most of the injuries this year. Piccolo firecrackers are largely marketed towards children — bearing the name of a Dragonball Z character and often carrying the names of popular Philippine figures like boxing champion and senator Manny Pacquiao — and are easily and inexpensively acquired despite their illegal status. CNN notes this variety is “toxic and causes the most injuries to children every year. Usually, piccolo causes injuries whenever children ingest it.”

Some inventors have attempted to bring to market safer alternatives to the traditional firecrackers. the head of the Filipino Inventors Society Producers Cooperative (FISPC), Francisco Pagayon, debuted an electronic “firecracker” this year named after Duterte, the “Digong,” as well as a “Trump” variety intended to attract consumers worried for their health. “He explained that e-firecrackers produce rapid explosive sounds, without causing an actual explosion,” the Philippine Star reported, adding that they are meant to simulate the explosion of a “piccolo.”

Duterte has vocally opposed the use of firecrackers on New Year’s Eve due to their dangerous nature and banned them as mayor of southern Davao City in 2001. Davao recorded zero firecracker-related injuries during the course of this weekend. The president threatened to ban firecrackers before the new year came but was unable to organize the legislative majorities required. Instead, he warned, “the least that I can say or do is just to issue a warning that it’s very, very dangerous.”

Frances Martel

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