Less than six hours to go and we’re counting down to midnight. We’re back in San Simon for a family New Year celebration. The church service is at 8pm, which gives plenty of time for food, karaoke and a glass of wine or three, before the mayhem of the Filipino New Year begins.
Somehow the Filipinos took over the Chinese New Year custom of seeing the New Year in with a bang, supposedly as a way of driving out evil spirits and giving an auspicious start to the year. Mary Ann remembers, as a girl, stringing together old tin cans and dragging them up and down the street to make a suitable racket. These days paputok (fireworks) are the preferred method of noise-making, though it is not unheard of for people to shoot off their guns at midnight, with predictable results; after all stray bullets have to land somewhere.
Many of the fireworks are made in backyard workshops and although some particularly lethal types have been banned, this doesn’t seem to stop their sale, which appears to be totally unregulated. In every market place there are roadside stalls with stacks of fireworks on display. For several days the TV news have featured grisly accounts of children and teens having fingers blown off, but it doesn’t stop young people throwing firecrackers at each other – on the contrary, it just becomes more of a dare. Bishops, politicians, police officials and news columnists all fulminate against this custom, but nobody seems to be able to do very much about it. For example, Pompeyo S. Pedroche comments in a letter to the Inquirer newspaper:
We make deafening explosions reminiscent of the US invasion of Iraq until the wee hours of the morning, not to cheer or rejoice but to annoy and scare others. The more people we annoy and frighten, the more delighted and thrilled we are. Some of us set tires on fire in the middle of streets and the police couldn’t care less.
In other countries, local governments allocate money for their New Year’s fireworks and pyrotechnics. They are an awesome visual experience that residents look forward to at the park or on television in the safety of their living rooms. But to Filipinos, that’s no thrill at all. Thrill is impressing the neighbors that they have money to burn. Fireworks have become an inter-family competition. Worst, despite police warnings, the irresponsible fire their guns indiscriminately into the air mindless of where their bullets would land. These KSPs (kulang sa pansin) don’t even bother to read the next day’s news about innocent children hit by stray bullets. Then come the anguish of the victims’ families, the regrets, the blame game, and then the investigations that lead to nowhere—in that predictable order.
Rather than fireworks, we’ve bought hooters for the children to blow, and we will enjoy the neighbours’ pyrotechnic displays from a distance. I won’t wish you a peaceful New Year, because I know from past experience that for at least the first hour or so it will be total mayhem. But I do wish you a safe New Year. May God bless you and bless you richly.