Smuggling has been cited as one of the reasons why Piccolo, a banned firecracker manufactured in China, remained readily available for New Year revelers, including children, despite the yearly police crackdown on it. “Wala namang nagma-manufacture niyang Piccolo sa Pilipinas. Lahat iyan smuggled from China. Dumadaan 'yan sa main piers natin,” noted Director General Alan Purisima, head of the Philippine National Police (PNP), in a phone interview with GMA News Online. “The main problem is hindi nahaharang sa ating ports of entry,” Purisima added. Purisima said Piccolo—a match-like firecracker blamed for most New Year injuries over the past years—will not end up in the hands of Filipino users if the Bureau of Customs manages to intercept its entry in the country in the first place. GMA News Online was still trying to contact Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon as of posting time to get his side on this matter. Light punishment Purisima, who as PNP head is tasked by law to approve licenses and business permits of firecracker manufacturers and sellers in the country, also said Filipinos are not deterred from selling and buying Piccolo since punishments for such acts are only “light.”
“Kapag nahuli ka, ang kulong six months to one year lang. Tapos ang multa, hanggang P30,000. Kaya itong mga nagtitinda, they are no longer concerned sa safety ng users. Mas mahalaga sa kanilang kumita,” he said.
The country’s primary law against firecrackers, Republic Act 71843, has been in effect for two decades now. It lists down pyrotechnic devices that are allowed in the Philippines and imposes penalties on illegal manufacture, sale, distribution and sale of firecrackers in the country.
The Department of Health said 107 out of the 184 fireworks-related injuries recorded as of Monday afternoon were due to Piccolo. Most of them were children.
Purisima said the high number of Piccolo-related injuries can be attributed to the firecrackers’ seemingly innocent appearance.
“Hindi mo aakalaing dangerous siya kasi nga maliit lang at mukha naman talagang safe kung titingan. Kaya karamihan sa customers talaga nito, mga bata,” he said.
He added that while the PNP is trying its best to confiscate illegal firecrackers such as the piccolo, the country’s 148,000-strong police force can only cover limited areas.
“Ilan lang ba ang pulis natin? Do you think puwede naming bantayan lahat ng areas sa lahat ng oras?” he said.
Purisima also admitted that it is difficult for authorities to dissuade Filipinos from buying firecrackers because firecrackers are part of the culture in celebrating the New Year.
“Kultura na talaga natin ito. Tayong mga Pilipino, napakahilig nating magpaputok. Ayaw nating nanonood lang. We really don’t care much kung makakasakit iyan, or kung magkano ang gagastusin sa mga paputok na iyan,” he said.
Purisima further said that he will not tolerate reports that some policemen are themselves stealing and using confiscated illegal firecrackers.
“Iimbestigahan natin iyan. Kung mapatunayan na ginamit nga nila itong mga iligal na paputok na ito, they should be punished,” he said.
Senior Superintendent Neri Ilagan, deputy director for operations of the Quezon City Police District, admitted that some of his subordinates indeed tried to commit "pilferage" of confiscated firecrackers, but added that he has already reprimanded the policemen.
“It was more of a spur-of-the-moment incident. They took advantage while the firecrackers were being destroyed, but I reprimanded them on the spot,” Ilagan said in a separate phone interview.
“Pinagpapalo ko pa nga. Hindi tayo papayag sa ganoong behavior lalo na nandoon pa ang media. I don’t know kung ano ang naisipan nila, pero hindi natin hahayaan iyan,” he added. Purisima said that these erring policemen will still be sanctioned even if they already returned the illegal firecrackers. "Hindi naman dahil isinauli na, wala nang kasalanan. In the first place, dapat wala sila kahit intention to get those firecrackers kasi iligal nga iyong mga iyon," he said. — KBK, GMA News