The 18th Congress approved the version of the bill modernizing the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) with the controversial provision authorizing over 2,000 firefighters to carry guns.
This comes after the amended bicameral conference committee report on the BFP modernization bill breezed through the House, which ratified it on Wednesday, August 4.
Some senators resisted the bicam report, believing firefighters do not need to carry guns.
But they were ultimately outvoted by the rest of the chamber, which conducted a nominal vote given senators’ previous opposition to the BFP modernization bill.
A total of 14 senators voted in favor of ratification, while only four voted no. Those who were opposed to the bicam report were senators Nancy Binay, Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, and Ralph Recto. Senators Risa Hontiveros and Aquilino Pimentel III abstained.
This now means the BFP modernization bill – a pet measure of President Rodrigo Duterte – can now be transmitted to Malacañang for Duterte’s signature.
Bill sponsor and Senator Bato dela Rosa said that under the bill, a total of 2,282 firefighters would be authorized to carry guns to help protect their colleagues in the performance of their duties.
These firefighters would be assigned under the proposed Security and Protection Unit (SPU) of the BFP in each city and municipality nationwide.
In justifying the provision, Dela Rosa cited the previous experiences of bicam members and senators Win Gatchalian and Francis Tolentino back when the two were still mayors of Valenzuela City and Tagaytay, respectively.
“Kung merong sunog, kawawa talaga ang firemen kung walang security kasi maraming mga tao na unruly, lalo na kung ‘yung sunog ay nandoon sa – I don’t know how to properly call this – squatters’ area na dikit-diki ang lahat, kung saan gustong gusto ng tao na mauna mabuhusan ng tubig from the firehose ang kanilang bahay kahit malayo pa sa priority,” said Dela Rosa.
(Whenever there is a fire, we really pity the firemen without security because there are a lot of people who are unruly, especially in the – I don’ t know how to properly call this – squatters’ area where houses are close together and people want the water from the firehose to be doused on their homes even if they’re not a priority yet.)
An earlier version of the BFP modernization bicam report was actually up for ratification in June.
But the eagle-eyed Drilon noticed that a provision allowing firefighters to bear arms was inserted in the document. This is despite senators voting to strike down the contentious provision when the bill was still in the Senate plenary in March.
The Senate then moved to reject the bicam report on the BFP modernization bill.
The impasse prompted both the House and the Senate to convene a new bicameral conference committee to settle the issue over the firearms provision.
Dela Rosa said on Wednesday, however, that House members were still insistent on retaining the controversial provision.
As a compromise, Tolentino proposed that the number of firefighters who can carry guns be specified in the bicam report.
Hontiveros also added an amendment that would require SPU firefighters to undergo neuropsychological examinations and periodic trainings as a standard to help prevent abuse of the firearms to be issued to them.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who earlier rejected the first bicam report, said he now supported the measure after it was clarified by Duterte himself to Congress leaders that only a fraction of the BFP would be allowed to bear arms.
“But now, after several lengthy discussions…. with the idea and agreement that it would be limited to a small number of personnel that would secure our firemen during times of fire, therefore, I’ve agreed to change my vote on this particular issue,” said Zubiri.
Still not justified
Drilon, however, still argued that the changes in the second bicam report still do not justify the proposal to give guns to some firefighters.
“We just want to manifest on record that we cannot agree to this proposal, but we will submit it to the will of the chamber. We will just interpose an objection to the adoption of this bicam report principally because we do not believe it is justified,” said the Senate Minority Leader.
Hontiveros also agreed that even the amendment she introduced does not change her position that firefighters should not be allowed to carry guns.
“My objection to firefighters bearing arms remains. This is unfortunately not cured by limiting their number or by imposing standards,” said Hontiveros.
The Philippines has gained international infamy for police brutality in Duterte’s bloody war against drugs. Thousands of drug suspects have been killed in both legitimate police operations and vigilante-style killings.
There have also been cases of cops using their government-issued guns to kill Filipinos even while they were off-duty. In December 2020, Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca shot the unarmed 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son 25-year-old Frank Gregorio in Tarlac. – Rappler.com