MANILA -- The health department has enjoined school children to be “instrumental" in convincing their families to shun firecrackers this Christmas season. 

"Kayo ang magpaalala sa mga magulang nyo na, ‘Papa, baka kayo maputulan ng kamay, wala nang magtatrabaho para sa amin’ (Be the one to remind your parents that if they lose a hand from a firecracker injury, they could no longer earn a living for their family)," the Department of Health’s (DOH) Assistant Secretary Maria Francia M. Laxamana told pupils of the Marcelo H. del Pilar Elementary School in Quezon City on Tuesday.

Laxamana said that if children are made to understand the dangers of lighting firecrackers, it would be easier for them to convince their parents and siblings to avoid firecrackers to save lives, property and the environment.

She explained to them Executive Order No. 28, which strictly regulates and controls the use of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices and encourages the community display of fireworks.

She likewise emphasized to the children the importance of washing their hands properly after handling firecrackers to avoid ingesting them.

"Hand washing is the most important prevention. Very practical," she said.

Laxamana said she looks forward to working with the Department of Education (DepEd) in the information campaign in schools to ensure that no life or property is lost due to firecrackers.

According to the DOH’s 2016 Aksyon Paputok Injury Reduction Surveillance, 181 of those who were injured by firecrackers during last year’s Christmas holidays were aged 10 years to 14 years, and most of them were playing with piccolo and kwitis.

Dr. Nestor Dumagat of DepEd’s Quezon City Division related to the school children how he had witnessed people being maimed by firecrackers.

"Pag nagpaputok at naputukan, sabog. Mahirap nang ayusin. Habangbuhay nang dadalhin ang deformities (When a person lights a firecracker and gets injured, he will carry his injury for the rest of his life)," Dumagat said, adding that watching a community fireworks display is not only safe but is also cost-effective.

Funds meant for firecrackers could instead be spent on more important things for the family, he added.

During the event, members of the EcoWaste Coalition showed how to make improvised noisemakers that children could use to ring in the New Year. For instance, bottles filled with pebbles could serve as maracas or empty milk cans could be banged like drums.

Around this time every year, EcoWaste shares toxin-free ways to celebrate the holiday season.

This year, EcoWaste invited representatives of various government agencies and mascots from the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Philippine National Police to campaign against the use of firecrackers.

EcoWaste national coordinator, Aileen Lucero, said firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices are harmful to the environment.

“Toxic sila sa hangin, sa tao, at sa environment. Kaya nandito kami ngayon para ang mga children ay iwasan ang paggamit ng paputok, lalo na ang piccolo (Firecrackers are toxic to the air, to people, and to the environment. We are here to call on the children to refrain from lighting firecrackers, especially the piccolo)," Lucero said in an interview.

She said EO 28, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte middle of this year, could actually help EcoWaste achieve its goal of reducing air pollution during the holidays.

She, however, acknowledged that local governments could not fully implement the EO right away.

"Hindi siya agaran, although alam natin na kaya, dahil ang Davao City at Olongapo City ay may total ban ng firecrackers and fireworks. Kaya naman (It cannot be done right away, although we know that it can be done, considering that Davao City and Olongapo City already have a total ban on firecrackers and fireworks. It can be done),” Lucero said.

With EO 28 in place, she expressed hope that 2018 would pave the way for the total removal of firecrackers.

"Umaapela ang EcoWaste Coalition sa publiko na tangkilikin na lang yung community fireworks display na tinatalaga sa inyong siyudad (EcoWaste Coalition appeals to the public to support the community fireworks display in your city),” she said.

Huwag nang bumili at magsayang ng pera para lang sa ilang minuto o ilang segundo na ilaw, kung saan pwedeng manood na lamang at iwas sunog, iwas kalat, at iwas pollution. Wala pang magkakasakit sa ating mga kabataan (No need to buy and waste your money for just a few minutes or seconds of light, when you could just watch the community fireworks display. This way, we avoid fires, garbage and pollution and save the kids from getting sick)," she added. 

Miss Philippines Eco-Tourism Vanessa Mae Castillo also graced the occasion. 

"Reducing waste is one of the effects kung di tayo gagamit ng paputok (if we refrain from igniting firecrackers)," Castillo said in her short message. (PNA/Photo by Leilani S. Junio)