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Firearms for firemen?

A bill to modernize the Bureau of Fire Protection, that includes a provision that will put firearms in the hands of firefighters, is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature after Congress ratified the measure’s revised bicameral conference committee report.

The Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the amended bicam report after the upper chamber scrapped it in June or containing the provision that would arm firefighters.

The bicam report is a product of discussions between the Senate and House of Representatives which aims to reconcile disagreeing provisions from their respective versions of the bill.

The sticking point was the proposal to establish the BFP Security and Protection Unit (SPU) and discussions revolved around the number of firemen allowed to carry guns as 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. With currently 17 fire regional offices and 146 city fire stations, 2,282 firefighters or 7.9 percent of the 32,800-strong BFP will be armed. With each firearm costing P35,000, the total funding needed to arm firefighters who are supposed to fight fires instead of shooting people amounts to over P79 million.

Defending the need to arm firemen, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa cited incidents wherein firefighters become victims of violence by “unruly” people during fire situations. For the former chief of the Philippine National Police who oversaw the initial stages of President Duterte’s brutal drug war that had killed thousands, mostly using firearms, the solution to these sorts of situations is obviously more firearms. Only four senators, namely 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.

For legislators, modernizing the Bureau of Fire Protection should be an easy priority. However, arming firefighters should be on the opposite spectrum in terms of priorities for a nation that can hardly provide cash assistance to the millions of Filipino families severely affected by the punishing restrictions imposed upon them due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This country’s firemen need all the help they can get and a bill modernizing the BFP should be a welcome development. We can only hope they can use all their new tools properly to prevent damage and death to the communities they are supposed to protect.*

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