President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Modernization Act and defended the decision to arm more than 2,000 firefighters last September 10. 

“The problem is whenever there’s fire, everyone wants to be prioritized, especially if it’s a conflagration that is really a big one, they want (firemen to respond to their areas first), if not, they will threaten the helpless firefighters,” Duterte said.

“The police don’t enter the fire site… they (control) the traffic outside. Those who are angry cut the hose. So, (this is one more) challenge (to the) firefighters,” he added. 

“So, we thought of just providing them firearms… (but the decision is) for the wisdom of Congress, we will bow to it.”

Republic Act 11589 or “An Act Strengthening and Modernizing the Bureau of Fire Protection and Appropriating Funds, therefore,” sponsored by Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, will authorize 2,282 firefighters to carry guns to discourage unruly mobs in the performance of their duties.

“Under the law, the BFP will embark on a 10-year modernization period, transforming it into a modern and world-class institution,” Duterte said during a signing ceremony at Malacañang.

In a report by ONE News by The Philippine Star, Dela Rosa said the proposal was “borne out of a request coming from Malacañang, from the President.”

The modernization program will level up the current fire protection services of the BFP through the acquisition of new and modern equipment, vehicles and personal protective gear combined with regular skills capability enhancement training for personnel and officers, including fire volunteers and fire safety practitioners, on fire prevention and suppression, fire inspection and clearance, investigation, disaster preparedness, rescue, emergency medical response and other operations,” the report noted.

“It also institutionalizes the fire protection bureau’s duty to respond to natural or man-made disasters and other emergencies, including the conduct of rescue operations, medical emergencies and containment of hazardous materials (HAZMAT), chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive or CBRNE materials,” it added.

“I am therefore confident that the passage of the Modernization Act will help boost the morale, efficiency, responsiveness and professionalism of the BFP in realizing their mandate,” Duterte said.

In another report by GMA NewsDuterte said some fire victims would threaten firemen to prioritize their areas. 

“Iyong iba pinuputol – sa galit, pinuputol ‘yung hose. So, there are so many challenges in thework of a bumbero, kailangan mo protektahan,” he said.

Duterte also noted that arming firemen will make them confident in doing their jobs. 

“We thought of just arming them also. Tutal (empleyado sila ng) gobyerno and they can be called upon during emergencies to contribute to the law and order of the place but they have to have something,” he said, noting a mob is easier to control when firearms are visible.

“Sad to say it, but kung hindi ka makakita ng baril, hindi susunod,” he said.

DILG insists selected firemen will be armed for crowd control, self-defense only

In a report by The Philippine Star, Department of Interior and Local Government spokesperson Jonathan Malaya in a statement clarified that “fire officers will be armed with pistols for them to be able to maintain peace and order during fire incidents and for self-defense purposes as fire victims, out of frustration, sometimes gang up on fire personnel during firefighting operations.”

The DILG defended that the arming provision in the recently-signed Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization Act that will create a Security and Protection Unit in each regional and city fire station.

“There are times when people want to save their burning house first, they crowd the firefighters and make a fuss. We also want people to protect and follow our firefighters as they do their job,” Malaya said. 

Malaya also clarified that firefighters would undergo marksmanship and gun safety training before the issuance of their firearms.

“We will not just arm them without proper training,” he said, noting “all fire officers carried firearms when the fire services was still part of the Integrated National Police. The Integrated National Police has been replaced by the Philippine National Police (PNP).”

“It was only when the BFP was created under the DILG that they were no longer issued firearms,” he said.

DILG Sec. Eduardo Año, on the other hand, said the measure will “significantly improve the country’s fire prevention, rescue and emergency medical services through its expanded role and the acquisition of modern equipment, facilities and capacity enhancement of all fire personnel.”

“This will allow the Bureau to fully modernize its fire-fighting tools and lifesaving equipment and professionalize the fire personnel and fire services,” he said.

More harm than good

In another report by The Philippine Star, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement that the BFP’s modernization should ultimately be geared toward improving the Department’s presence, capacity, and delivery of its duty.

“Arming firemen will not contain fires nor can it enhance the efficiency of the firefighters’ performance of their duties and functions,” De Guia added.  

“However, such challenges can be addressed by using the budget for the purchasing of guns to buy more firetrucks, hire more firemen, and build more fire stations to respond adequately to residential and non-residential fires,” she added. 

De Guia insisted that the BFP’s mandate “is to prevent and suppress all destructive fires towards saving lives and properties,” noting that “authorizing more than 2,000 firefighters to carry guns is tangential to this role.”  

“Providing security in the community is the mandate of law enforcement officers, which the BFP may request from the Philippine National Police based on the Fire Code of the Philippines,” De Guia said.  

“To this end, we urge the government to look deeper into the challenges of upholding this duty to find better match solutions to problems,” she added.