Guns and hoses: BFP bill with provision arming firefighters awaits Duterte’s signature
MANILA, Philippines — A bill modernizing the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), including a provision arming firefighters, is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature after Congress ratified the measure’s revised bicameral conference committee report.
In their separate plenary sessions Wednesday, the Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the amended bicam report after the upper chamber last June scrapped it for containing a similar provision arming firefighters.
While the House swiftly ratified the report, a lengthy discussion ensued in the Senate.
In the end, the upper chamber approved the bicam report, with 14 senators voting in favor of the ratification; four voted “no” while two others abstained from voting.
The bicam report is a product of discussions between the Senate and House of Representatives, which aims to reconcile disagreeing provisions from their respective bill versions.
With the scrapping of the first report in June, it was reverted to the bicameral conference committee for another round of discussions.
Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, head of the upper chamber’s contingent to the bicam and sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said he raised the concerns of senators regarding the provision allowing firemen to carry guns.
“However, the House conferees still insisted with their proposal to establish the BFP Security and Protection Unit or SPU,” he said.
In revising the first bicam report earlier rejected by the Senate, the number of firemen allowed to carry guns as part of the bill’s proposed SPU was specified “to limit the authority of the BFP on the issuance of [a] firearm,” Dela Rosa, who also chairs the Senate public order committee, told senators.
SPU members will be provided with “appropriate equipment” to ensure the security and protection of their colleagues during fire suppression operations or investigations.
Under the amended bicam report, only 14 firefighters for every fire regional office and city station will be authorized to carry a firearm as members of the SPU, Dela Rosa said.
Currently, there are 17 fire regional offices and 146 city fire stations, which means only 2,282 firefighters or 7.9 percent of the 32,800-strong BFP will be armed, he added.
Each firearm unit, according to Dela Rosa, will cost P35,000. The total funding needed to arm the SPU members amounts to over P79 million.
Body-worn cameras may also be given to SPU members, he added.
However, they will not be performing law enforcement functions and will not be given separate powers to arrest people.
“Their unit is very clear. It’s the security and protection unit. They are not enforcing laws, except of course their basic mandate, that is enforcing the Fire Code of the Philippines,” Dela Rosa said.
“First and foremost, their mandate is really fire suppression, yung kanilang (their) assignment with the SPU is secondary only. Protecting their comrades is just secondary to their mandate,” he added.
According to Dela Rosa, the Senate contingent to the bicam also further amended the said provision to “ensure that those who will be appointed in the SPU will be well trained to handle firearms.”
“As such, all SPU members shall be required to undergo neuropsychological examination before their appointment to the unit as well as periodic training,” he added.
Defending the need for such provision arming firemen, Dela Rosa cited incidents wherein firefighters become victims of violence by “unruly” people during fire situations.
“Kawawa talaga ang firemen kung walang security dahil maraming mga tao na mga unruly people. Inaagaw nila yung mga hose, pag pumapalag yung firemen, sinasaksak, pinapalo, basta sinasaktan,” he said.
(I really feel bad for the firemen if there is no security provided for them because there are a lot of unruly people. They will grab the hose from the firemen, stabbing them, hitting them, just harming them.)
“I, myself, being a former chief of police of municipal police stations and districts, I have experienced incidents wherein pagdating namin sa area, ikakarga na lang namin yung mga firemen na nasaksak, dala dala namin sa ospital dahil inaaway ng mga tao na gustong umagaw sa kanilang hose,” he recalled.
(I, myself, being a former chief of police of municipal police stations and districts, I have experienced incidents wherein when we respond to the area, we will bring stabbed firefighters to the hospital because they were harmed by those who wanted to take their hoses from them.)
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Francis Pangilinan and Nancy Binay voted against the ratification of the report.
Senators Risa Hontiveros and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel abstained from voting.
Drilon, in objecting to the report’s adoption, said he was not convinced that arming a civilian unit of government is justified.
Meanwhile, Recto said that while he is in favor of modernizing the BFP, arming firemen is a “misplaced priority.”
“I wish to place on record in plenary, as I did during the bicam proceedings earlier today that my objection to firefighters carrying arms remains,” Hontiveros, for her part, said.
“This is unfortunately not cured by limiting their number or imposing criteria or standards. The global evidence and debate simply do not support the proposition that emergency services personnel, including firefighters, should carry arms,” she added.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.