Piccolo: The Philippines' most dangerous firecracker

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — "Piccolo" refers to a musical instrument — a half-sized flute — but Filipino kids in the 1990s who followed the Japanese anime "Dragon Ball Z", would know that name as an alien character in the series, a villain-turned-hero with rippling muscles, green skin and antennae.

But for many years now, "piccolo" during the Christmas and New Year holidays would mean one thing to many kids: a cheap, seemingly innocuous firecracker that provides the simplest thrill. Take one small stick from the box or pack, scrape it across the ground, until it pops and crackles. Tiny explosions and sparks happen several times, until the piccolo burns itself out.

Piccolo is cheap, simple-to-use, and readily available in neighborhood sari-sari stores and public markets. It's also toxic and causes the most injuries to children every year. Usually, piccolo causes injuries whenever children ingest it.

Data from the Department of Health show that of 116 firecracker-related injuries recorded nationwide  as of December 30, sixty-nine (more than half the total) were caused by piccolo.

DOH Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag explains piccolo is popular among children. They can buy cheaply per piece or per box.  Tayag also notes its packaging is very colorful, with some even branding it with local names such as Pacquiao, "Who can refuse Pacquiao?" asks Tayag.

Piccolo is made in China and is banned by the government.

Imported firecrackers banned

Piccolo and other imported firecrackers are prohibited under  Republic Act No. 7183, the law which regulates the sale, manufacture, and distribution of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices.

According to the PNP-Firearms and Explosives Office,  piccolo and most imported firecrackers being sold in the country are sourced from China. These are repackaged to make them appear as locally-made.

A CNN Philippines team went around Divisoria last week and saw some stalls openly selling piccolo and other imported firecrackers and fireworks. Some of the repackaged piccolo bore the name Pacquiao-Ultraman and marked as made in Angat, Bulacan.

Some vendors in Divisoria  believe these are not illegal or banned because they contain small amounts of explosive chemicals.  One vendor even boasts of selling imported firecrackers claiming they are safer than local brands.

Chief Supt. Cesar Hawthorne Binag, Director of the PNP-FEO says, "Pwede hulihin outright ng pulis yung mga nagtitinda ng piccolo.  Pero kasi kung ikaw ordinaryo tao di mo alam na bawal yung imported.

"They (vendors) don't think it's illegal? Alam nila yun kasi we conduct safety trainings. We don't approve permits for retailers and dealers without these tranings. "

Customs Bureau vs. smuggled firecrackers

Members of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety had earlier criticized the Bureau of Customs  for failing to stop the smuggling of finished firecrackers and pyrotechnic products.

Committee chair Rep. Romeo M. Acop said the BOC should be the first line of defense against smuggled products.

BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon assures he has already issued a memo for the strict implementation of RA  7183, which bans imported finished firecrackers. "I have  directed port collectors nationwide to form teams to check all markets and public places where fireworks are being sold and confiscate those illegal, piccolo," Faeldon said.

CNN Philippines has asked for an updated report from the BOC, but its Public Information Office say they are still collating data.

But based on data from PNP's Ligtas Paskuhan 2016 campaign, it has listed 7 incidents of illegal possession/use/sale of firecrackers since  December 16.  Three have been arrested.

Gov't spends P590M for New Year injuries

According to the DOH, on the average, 960 firecracker-related injuries occur each year.

This translates to ₱590-million in public funds used annually, for hospitalization and treatment of victims.

Sixty percent of injuries happen in the National Capital Region, with nearly half of the victims are 15 years- old and below.

Tayag says of their campaign for 2016, "We focus on Metro Manila, children and let's get rid of piccolo once and for all — talagang seryosong crackdown. Imbes na we're talking to parents, were talking to children — tell your parents, Mama, Papa don't buy this (firecrackers), it's dangerous."

Earlier, the DOH went around schools for its intensified information campaign on the dangers of using firecrackers.

It also launched a shame campaign, where the DOH will publicly announce the list of cities with most number of firecrackers use or most number of firecracker-related injuries.

The DOH, upon instructions by President Duterte, is drafting an executive order which prohibits the individual and residential use of virtually all firecrackers  including bawang, trianggulo, kwitis (skyrocket), and pyrotechnics like luces (sparklers) and fountain.  It provides instead for the conduct of community fireworks displays.

The President has said he favors a total ban on firecrackers, as he had implemented when he was mayor of Davao City.