, January 1, 2003 (STAR)
By Rainier Allan Ronda  - A young girl and a security guard were killed by stray bullets and 503 people were injured in firecracker explosions nationwide as Filipinos greeted the New Year the traditional way, the Department of Health (DOH) reported yesterday.

At least 52 victims required amputation while 45 suffered from partial or total blindness.

The number of injuries recorded by the DOH from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1 showed a 15 percent decline from the 591 cases in 2002. At least 380 of the firecracker-related injuries were reported on New Year’s Eve and the first hours of New Year’s Day.

"The numbers were lower," Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said. "But the injuries were as devastating."

At least 13 fires broke out in residential and commercial areas nationwide.

Eight members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and one soldier face disciplinary action, dismissal and administrative charges for indiscriminately firing their guns during the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Despite the ban on the illegal discharge of firearms to greet the New Year, a five-year-old girl in Bulacan and a security guard in Quezon City were killed while 16 other people were wounded by stray bullets in Makati City and northern Metro Manila.

Joville Silvestre Bondoc was hit by a stray bullet in the head while she was in the bathroom of their home in Barangay San Isidro in Paombong, Bulacan. She emerged from the bathroom bleeding from the head at 11:45 p.m. as her family was preparing the traditional media noche.

Joville was rushed to the Emilio Perez Hospital in nearby Hagonoy town, where she was declared dead on arrival.

PO1 Jose Uring told The STAR the Bulacan police are interviewing people who may have seen the person who fired the bullet that killed Joville, though he admitted that they have yet to determine who in the area owned guns.

In Quezon City, security guard Israel Bulan, 42, was struck by a stray bullet in the shoulder as he stood drinking coffee in front of his home in Barangay Commonwealth.

Bulan was pronounced dead at the Fairview General Hospital at 6:30 a.m. yesterday.

Shot, but still alive

Also yesterday, security guard Karl Patria, 31, was hit by a stray bullet in the head as he stood outside his home at No. 49, Block 1, Zero St. in Barangay West Rembo, Makati City to watch the fireworks.

Patria’s relatives rushed him to Makati Medical Center, where his condition was stabilized after doctors removed the bullet lodged in his skull.

At the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRMMC), one unidentified man was declared dead due to a gunshot wound, but Dayrit said the Department of Health (DOH) is still confirming whether the victim died of a stray bullet injury or was a victim of homicide or murder.

Northern Police District director Senior Superintendent Marcelino Franco said three people were hit by stray bullets in Valenzula and Malabon cities.

Patricia David, 38, of 596 Valdez St., Paso de Blas, Valenzuela City was hit by a stray bullet in the right foot. Gorgonio Bagyas, 31, of Fortune I, Gen. T. de Leon St., Valenzuela was hit in the left leg. Gregorio Vargas, 18, of 205 Block I, Gozon Compound, Letre Road, Tonsuya, Malabon City, sustained a bullet wound to the nape.

Firecracker injuries, amputations

As the clock struck midnight Tuesday, the sky lit up in pyrotechnic blasts, shrouding most streets in a thick haze of black, cordite-laced smoke. Powerful blasts thundered occasionally in alleys until the wee hours of the New Year and radio stations were screaming reports of injuries in hospital emergency rooms.

Nine percent of the firecracker blast victims recorded nationwide, Dayrit said, had to undergo amputation.

The DOH National Epidemiology Center (NEC) said at least 119 were hurt by Five-Star firecrackers, 89 were injured by kwitis, 50 sustained injuries from whistlebombs and 35 suffered burns from luces , or non-explosive sparklers. These firecrackers and sparklers were tagged by the NEC as the most harmful pyrotechnics.

All those treated for firecracker injuries were given anti-tetanus shots to prevent the largest infection risk arising from firecracker burns and abrasions due to the animal manure content in most locally made firecrackers.

Eighty-one percent of firecracker victims were males, with 249 (49.5 percent) cases reported in Metro Manila and 12 percent (58 cases) reported in the Ilocos region. Dayrit also said 22 percent of those hurt by firecrackers were injured while drunk.

The DOH also reported that while there were no reported deaths due to ingestion of watusi (dancing firecrackers popular among small children), three cases of watusi ingestion were reported by hospitals.

In Makati, Melchor Alawigan, 18, was stabbed in the back in Barangay Pinagkaisahan after an altercation. Alawigan said he was walking along Kalayaan Avenue near Harvard street when he was almost hit by a firecracker thrown by a reveler. Alawigan confronted the suspect, aged between 15 and 16, about the firecracker, sparking a heated argument during which the suspect stabbed Alawigan with a fan knife.

Erring PNP men charged

As of late yesterday, eight personnel of the Philippine National Police faced summary dismissal for indiscriminately firing their service firearms, PNP chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. said.

Facing administrative charges are PO1 Moises Andalis of the Special Action Force (SAF), after he was arrested on Dec. 28 in Barangay Uson, Masbate; PO2 Angel Altos, also an SAF member, arrested in Olongapo City on Dec. 26; PO2 June Estrada, assigned to Camp Crame and arrested in San Carlos City, Pangasinan; SPO2 Dominador Ferrer of Pangasinan’s Calisiao police, arrested in Barangay San Miguel on Dec. 27; SPO4 Diosdado Bamba of the San Fernando City police in La Union, arrested on Dec. 28; SPO1 Edgardo Davidas and PO3 Danilo Orocio, both arrested in Western Visayas.

Pfc. Eduardo Tanasa of the Armed Forces of the Philippine was arrested by police in the Bicol region for indiscriminately firing his gun. The PNP is coordinating with the AFP for the conduct of disciplinary action against Tanasa.

PNP spokesman Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil said summary dismissal proceedings against the erring lawmen will be filed without prejudice to the filing of criminal charges in court.

Other persons caught indiscriminately firing guns during the New Year revelry were security guard Rammy Amable and civilian Ian Lim, who now face criminal charges, Bataoil said.

Amable’s security license and Lim’s gun license will also be revoked, Bataoil added.

Neighbors of PO3 Virgilio Bismonte of the Mandaluyong police complained that Bismonte fired his service firearm while standing at Don Pedro and Alfonso streets in Barangay Poblacion.

The witnesses called the police, but responding policemen who searched the Bismonte residence were unable to find the his service firearm.

Investigators suspect Bismonte may have hidden his gun after hearing about the complaints of his neighbors. Lawyer Remedios Benedicto, a resident of Makati’s posh San Lorenzo Village, reported finding a spent bullet shell near her house on New Year’s Day. The shell is now in the possession of the Makati Police.

The indiscriminate firing of guns happened despite stern warnings from law enforcement agencies that military and police personnel who illegally discharge their firearms to greet the New Year face dismissal from the service and criminal and civil sanctions.

The PNP went as far as to tape the muzzles of all police service firearms and have the tapes countersigned to determine which of these law enforcers illegally fired their guns on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Education campaign, law enforcement pay off

Both the PNP and the DOH noted the low demand for firecrackers this year. Both agencies credit the stepped up "Iwas Paputok" campaign with its grisly post-New Year publicity showing blown-up hands and emergency room scenes, as well as the vigorous PNP campaign banning the sale of illegal firecrackers for the decrease in New Year’s celebration deaths and injuries.

PNP National Capital Region Police office Chief Deputy Director Reynaldo Velasco said the PNP "performed very well ... We are successful in bringing down the casualty figure this year."

Velasco added that the indiscriminate firing of guns has gone down from 20 cases in 2002 to 14 cases this year.

"In the last three years," Bataoil said, "we feel now that our campaign against indiscriminate firing and illegal firecrackers paid off."

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and BFP also joined in the anti-firecracker campaign, spreading education drives and information campaigns that have contributed to the decrease in firecracker and stray bullet deaths and injuries, Velasco said.

Velasco also lauded the communities that helped law enforcers, health officials and local government officials ensure a safer New Year’s celebration.


The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Metrobase, meanwhile, recorded 11 fires in in the Metropolis on Tuesday and yesterday.

A garments warehouse along Donada street in Pasay City was hit by a fire at 11:35 p.m. Tuesday and reached the fifth alarm before firefighters placed the blaze under control at 1:05 a.m. Wednesday.

Two other buildings, the Ocean Furniture and Bodega and Electrical supply warehouses in Valenzuela City, were gutted by fire at dawn of New Year’s Day, destroying about P2 million worth of goods and property, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) personnel said.

Arson prober FO1 Marlon Aniasco said the fire at the Bodega and Electrical Supply premises, located on No. 45 Magiliw st., began around 1 a.m. and took three hours to put out. The fire at the Ocean Furniture warehouse on Carmela street began at 1:30 p.m. and was contained two and a half hours later, Aniasco added,

The East Asia Night Club along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City was slightly damaged by fire, as were a commercial residence along Adriatico street in the party-zone district of Malate, Manila and residences in Tamaraw hills, Marulas, Valenzuela and along Fabella street in Mandaluyong City.

Other fires broke out at Parkway Village in Balintawak, Quezon City; along Leon Guinto street in San Andres, Manila; a commercial-residential area in Pasig Rotonda; a factory at De Castro Village in Paso de Blas in Dalandan, Valenzuela; and Pedro Gil corner Quirino Avenue in Manila.

MMDA Metrobase said the fires broke out between 12:45 and 4:30 a.m. Peaceful South, quieter North

In the southern Philippines, only one firecracker injury was reported. Eladio Galam, 66, was the only person treated for firecracker burns from a triangulo firecracker, marring Davao City’s otherwise pristine New Year record.

Davao City had a zero-injury Christmas celebration – a record Mayor Rodrigo Duterte hoped would be duplicated as the New Year came in. Duterte himself made the rounds of the city’s different police stations and reprimanded those arrested for violating the firecracker and pyrotechnics ban.

Southern Mindanao regional police commander Chief Superintendent Isidro Lapeña said the region was generally peaceful, with no recorded indiscriminate firing of guns or stray bullet injuries, though a 15-minute blackout hit Davao City at 11 p.m., when the 138-kv Davao-Mautan transmission line tripped.

In Zamboanga City, only eight people sustained firecracker injuries, Zamboanga City police spokesman Chief Inspector Antonio Clarito said. "We owe it to the vigilance of the people, who are watching their neighbors."

In Dagupan City, the Region I Medical Center (RIMC) posted a 50 percent decline in firecracker injury cases, with only 41 patients under treatment for varying degrees of burns and abrasions caused by pyrotechnics, compared with the 98 recorded cases in 2002. — With reports from Matthew Estabillo, Marvin Sy, Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez, Non Alquitran, Jerry Botial, Ding Cervantes, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Cesar Ramirez, Eva de Leon, Roel Pareño, Edith Regalado, Celso Amo

All rights reserved