Philippines says ‘fear of Duterte’ lessens New Year injuries

Manila: Fears that Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte would harshly punish revellers who celebrate the New Year with firecrackers caused a “remarkable” decline in injuries, the Health Minister said on Sunday.

The Philippines indulges in an annual orgy of New Year’s Eve merrymaking that leaves hundreds maimed as people set off firecrackers and fire guns in the air in a loud and raucous overnight celebration.

But Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said injuries during this year’s revelry were the lowest in 10 years after Duterte said he was considering repeating a ban on firecrackers which he implemented when he was the mayor of his southern home town of Davao.

“People are now afraid to light firecrackers because of the President,” Ubial said.

“They have this impression that somehow they will get caught or they will be punished.”

Ubial said 350 were injured by firecrackers and fireworks in 2017 compared to a 10-year average of 1,000.

Duterte, 71, has drawn global criticism including from the United States and the United Nations for a war on drugs that has killed over 5,000 people.

Duterte won last year’s elections in a landslide on a promise to eradicate narcotics by killing tens of thousands of criminals.

He also vowed to roll out Davao-style law and order measures nationwide, including banning smoking in restaurants and hotels and curbing drinking in public places.

Duterte in December said he would issue an order to ban people from using firecrackers, limiting their use to community fireworks displays.

“The least that I can say or do is just to issue a warning that it’s very, very dangerous,” he said pending the order’s release.

Duterte said he was concerned about children, who make up most of the victims.

Ubial said the trend continued in 2016, with a three-year-old suffering a hand injury at Cabanatuan in the centre of Luzon island.

The worst case involved a 15-year-old girl, who slipped into a coma after a stray bullet hit her head while she was watching a fireworks display in Manila’s neighbouring district of Malabon.

“This is one of our saddest incidents,” Ubial said.

“Even if it’s now down to 350 (injuries), that is still a lot of misery.”