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The History of How Bulacan Became the Country's Fireworks Mecca

A look back on the glory days of Bulacan's pyrotechnics industry.
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Pyrotechnics have been around for centuries, but in the Philippines, one family from Bulacan became industry pioneers more than 150 years ago.

It all started in 1867 in the little town of Sta. Maria, Bulacan. According to the Bulacan provincial government,  the local parish priest in Sta. Maria liked to use little rockets or kwitis to awaken his parishioners in time for the Simbang Gabi during Christmas season. Such was his love for fireworks that he earned a reputation for making it. A fellow Bulakenyo named Valentin Sta. Ana approached the friar and asked him to teach him how to make the pyrotechnics, to which the priest willingly obliged. That was the start of the beginning of what would be a giant industry in the Philippines.

Eventually, Valentin learned to perfect and improve on the fireworks, producing more than just kwitis. He likely made other innovations such as trompillos and fountains. Valentin taught his sons Valerio and Fernando how to make fireworks, and by 1938, the Sta. Ana brothers founded their own pyrotechnics manufacturing company, the Santa Ana Fireworks Factory located in Balasing Santa Maria, Bulacan.

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Their operations were halted because of the onslaught of World War II, but after the war, Fernando decided to open his own company called Victory Fireworks, which still operates to this day. The Sta. Ana family also established Universal Fireworks. According to the Bulacan provincial government, Fernando Sta. Ana is recognized as the country’s “Father of Modern Fireworks and Pyrotechnics”.

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The success of the Sta. Anas inspired others to copy their lead. Fireworks factories also opened in the provinces of Cavite and Laguna, whose owners also hailed from Bulacan and were seeking less competition against the well-established Sta. Ana family.

For 100 years since 1867, the fireworks industry remained in a gray area, operating without regulation or laws supporting or prohibiting it. It was only after a tragedy in Meycauayan, Bulacan that killed 26 people did government decide to regulate the pyrotechnics industry to make it safer. Regulating the industry also legalized it, allowing manufacturers to comply with rules surrounding it, and penalizing those who violate them.

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Further regulation in 1992 through Republic Act 7183 defined what types of firecrackers and fireworks are allowed to be manufactured. Under the act, the following firecrackers and fireworks were allowed to be manufactured, which Bulacan’s pyrotechnics manufacturers expertly made. Here are some of them:

Baby rocket: a firecracker with a stick so constructed that lighting of the wick will propel the rocket a few meters before exploding

Small triangulo: a firecracker shaped like a triangle with powder content less than the bawang and usually wrapped in brown paper

Photo by Ramesh NG | Wikimedia Commons.
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Bawang: a firecracker larger than a triangulo with 1/3 teaspoon of powder packed in cardboard tied around with abaca strings and wrapped in the shape of garlic

Paper caps: small strips of paper on a small sheet with tiny amount of black powder, used for children's toy guns

El diablo: tubular firecrackers with a wick, also known as labintador

Watusi: usually reddish in color and has the same diameter and length as a match stick, usually ignited by friction to produce little crackling explosions that seem to make it dance

Judas’s belt: a string of firecrackers consisting of either diablos or small triangulos that can number up to a hundred or thereabout and culminating in large firecracker usually a bawang

Kwitis: a large version of a baby rocket designed to be propelled to a height of 40 to 50 feet before exploding

Sparklers: made of black powder on a piece of wire or inside a paper tube designed to light up and glow after igniting

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Luces: a type of sparkler on a thin metal stick coated with black powder which produces sparks when lit

Fountain: a kind of sparkler conical in shape which is lighted on the ground and designed to provide various rising colors and intermittent lights upon being ignited

Jumbo regular and special: a kind of sparkler similar to a fountain but bigger in size

Mabuhay: sparklers bunched into a bundle of a dozen pieces

Roman candle: a sparkler similar to a fountain but shaped like a big candle, usually held like luces

Trompillo: a pyrotechnic device usually fastened at the center and designed to spin first clockwise and then counter-clockwise and provides various colored lights upon being ignited

Photo by BigRiz | Wikimedia Commons.
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Airwolf: a kind of sky rocket shaped like an airplane with a propeller to rise about forty or fifty feet and provide colors of light while suspended in the air

Whistle device: a rocket or similar pyrotechnic that emits a whistle-like sound or explode afterwards upon being ignited

Butterfly: Butterfly-shaped pyrotechnic device designed to lift above ground while providing light

 

The little town of Sta. Maria in Bulacan remains the most prolific manufacturer of fireworks and firecrackers in the country. Meanwhile, Bocaue in Bulacan is the trading hub of pyrotechnics because of its proximity to Metro Manila.

Today, the fireworks industry in the Philippines is no longer as vibrant as it was during the 1990s and early 2000s, owing to the government’s aggressive campaign against them due to the thousands of pyrotechnics-related injuries during New Year’s Day. Fireworks are also expensive, which could explain why fewer people buy them nowadays. Nevertheless, we look back on the glory days of Bulacan’s colorful and creative pyrotechnics that illuminated 150 years of Philippine history.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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