Filipino New Year Fireworks Siege

A seven-year-old Manila girl who was hit in the head by a stray bullet on New Year's Eve died today, the second child to have died from gunfire during the Philippines' annual end-of-year siege. Another 40-odd stray bullet incidents were recorded in addition to the deaths of the two children.

Two days after the event, explosions were still going off, some of them loud enough to stop a bank security guard's heart. The Philippines, which doesn't have organized fireworks shows like many other countries, depends on freelance enthusiasts whose explosive capability can be both spectacular and dangerous. It is considered to be the world's most dangerous country at New Year. Parts of Manila reek from the smell of cordite and low-hanging clouds of smoke on New Year's Day itself.

Philippine National Police Chief General Alan Purisima has sought to have the powerful firecrackers classified as improvised explosive devices (IED) as part of the government's effort to regulate illegal firecrackers, with anybody in possession of or manufacturing such devices subject to arrest and detention without bail until the holiday is over.

And for good reason. At least 697 people were admitted to various hospitals from injuries from firecrackers and other forms of explosives, including a new mega- pyrotechnic called the Gangnam Bomb which surfaced this year. It is said to be bigger than the giant 58-sq-cm bomb which surfaced in 2012 called "Goodbye Philippines." Despite attempts to slow things down, the number of injured from firecrackers and other explosives rose sharply from 454 wounded in 2012.

Police ceremonially taped the muzzles of the weapons in the hands of the police forces with orders that if any cop popped a cap during the holiday, he or she was out the door. Many of those firing off their weapons are suspected to be army or police personnel. Indeed, apparently members of the Quezon City Police District were caught on camera taking illegal firecrackers seized in police operations for their own use.

Police said at least 246 people were arrested and illegal fireworks worth P1.65 million (US$40,400) were confiscated at the height of the New Year revelry.

While across Asia setting off explosives to frighten away the evil spirits at the end of the year is a tradition, nobody does it quite like the Philippines. From an elevated vantage point in the Cavite highlands, the entire sky from Manila south to Batangas lights up with tremendous explosions paid for by politicians and wealthy businessmen.

Filipino paputok (firecrackers) come in many shapes and go by interesting names including the judas belt (a string of firecrackers), super lolo ("grandfather"), kwitis (from the Spanish word cohetes meaning rocket), bawang ("garlic") and airwolf, according to a study of Philippine culture called Tagalog Lang.

Driving out the devils also requires starting car engines and idling them at high speeds, setting off the car alarms and clanging pots and pans together. Children drag empty cans through the streets. The whole frenzy is an ordeal for pets, some of which have actually had heart attacks and died. Most cower under bushes or anywhere they can get away from the noise.

The seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m. Wednesday after her eighth cardiac arrest. She had been watching fireworks outside her home in Caloocan City when she was hit. The mayor of Coloocan City called on the police to speed up the investigation, saying at least six slugs were recovered from the area where the girl was hit. Another child, Ranjelo Nimer, died after being hit in the back by a homemade shotgun blast in Mandaluyong City.