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Senate rejects amendment authorizing firefighters to carry firearms

/ 08:11 PM March 03, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate voted down on Wednesday the proposed amendment to a bill on the modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) authorizing firefighters to carry short firearms during fire emergencies.

During the plenary session, 13 senators voted to drop the amendment, four were in favor of the proposal, while two abstained.

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The amendment to Senate Bill No. 1832 or the proposed Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Modernization Act was to “authorize the bearing of short firearms during fire emergencies and disasters only, provided that appropriate training shall be undertaken with the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) and the Philippine National Police.”

The amendment introduced by Sen. Francis Tolentino on the floor was proposed by Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go.

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“This is not my original amendment. I was asked by my seatmate to propound this. The proposed amendment would be very controversial perhaps. It’s an amendment coming from Sen. Bong Go, who is not here on the floor right now,” Tolentino said.

Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, sponsor of the bill as chair of the Senate public order committee, accepted the amendment.

However, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon moved to have it tabled for senators to discuss it further.

“This is a very substantial amendment. We do not recall this being discussed in the debates. I do not know whether this was taken up during the committee hearings,” Drilon said.

“This is just being inserted today. I thought it is reasonable that we be given time,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Grace Poe initially voiced their opposition to allowing BFP personnel to bear firearms.

Duterte’s request

In defending the amendment, Dela Rosa said the proposal was “borne out” of the request of President Rodrigo Duterte to arm BFP personnel with short firearms to enable them to support law enforcement operations of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

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“Per experience from the Zamboanga seige and Marawi seige, our firemen are at a disadvantage. When the bombs fell, the building burns, the frontliners will call in troops of firemen to suppress the fire, and these firemen had nothing to protect themselves except fire hoses,” Dela Rosa, a former PNP chief, said, speaking partly in Filipino.

He also cited “common” instances during fire emergencies wherein distressed homeowners would take a fireman’s hose by force.

“Many firemen get hurt because they’re carrying bolos. They [property owners] want to grab the hose and want their houses to be the first get doused with water even when the fire is still far away because they want to save their houses,” he said.

“Our firemen don’t carry arms. They‘re not feared. If these firemen will be given arms, crazy people will be afraid to mess with these firemen,” he added.

The senator further said the president would BFP personnel to be armed so that they could support the PNP by manning police stations when officers become more focused on counter-insurgency operations.

“It’s very near already that our military will shift its focus from counter-insurgency to external threat, especially the threat we face now at the West Philippine Sea. The problem of insurgency will be treated as a purely law enforcement problem and no longer a military problem and shall be transferred to the PNP,” Dela Rosa said.

“If our PNP [personnel] are too occupied, busy to conduct ng internal security operations, they will ask the BFP for support,” he added.

According to Dela Rosa, BFP personnel are split on whether they want to be armed or not.

“Some of them want to be issued with firearms and some of them don’t,” he said.

Meanwhile, Poe said she understood Dela Rosa’s concern about incidents at fire scenes, but she still posed her objection to allowing firefighters to be armed with guns.

“The mere fact that 50 percent of them are ambivalent about this, are not sure about whether or not they should have guns, is a big indication that they themselves know the limit of their mandate,” she said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, for his part, cited the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

Under the said law, Lacson said firefighters would be qualified to obtain firearms if they opt to do so.

“It’s redundant [to amend the law]. There’s already an existing law that covers that,” he said.

Eventually, Drilon moved to divide the house to vote whether the chamber would accept the amendment.

The majority of the senators voted no.

The senators who voted against the amendment are Drilon, Lacson, Poe, Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto,  Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Manny Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan and Joel Villanueva.

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Dela Rosa, Go, and Tolentino voted in favor of the amendment.

Sens. Sonny Angara and Imee Marcos abstained from voting.

ac / atm
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