Senate ratifies BFP modernization bill despite long debate on arming firemen

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The Senate, working overtime beyond midnight Wednesday night, ratified the controversial bicameral conference committee report on the modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), which it rejected weeks ago owing to a provision belatedly inserted by the House panel.

The senators voted 14 in favor, four against, with two abstentions, after Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa presented to the chamber the bicameral conference committee report for the second time.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto voted against the bill citing the adoption of provision arming firefighters.

Those who voted against did so, as they objected to the same House-initiated provision earlier, allowing for the creation of a special security unit (SPU) for firefighters, who are allowed to bear arms while responding to fire scenes.

They are Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Senators Nancy Binay and Francis  Pangilinan.

Those who abstained were Sens. Risa Hontiveros and Koko Pimentel.

Pimentel wanted to know from Dela Rosa why the Senate bicameral panel still accepted the same provision that had already caused the first bicameral report’s rejection by senators.

“Is it worth all the debates; this [could] cause a possible rejection, if not delay” of the approval of the measure, Pimentel asked aloud.

Senators have maintained that the task of securing firefighters in fire scenes — supposedly from people who attack them if they do not prioritize hosing down their houses — is best left to the police, not the firemen themselves.

In presenting the report on Senate Bill No. 1832 and House Bill No. 7406, also known as the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Modernization Act, Senator Dela Rosa said the Senate conferees sought “the best-reconciled version of the BFP Modernization Bill.”

The bicameral body adopted the provisions and title of the bill which were approved during the first Bicameral Conference Committee meeting last May 24, 2021 except for Section 4(d) of the conference committee report which includes the establishment of the Security and Protection Unit or SPU — the sticking point among the lawmakers who objected.

Replying to Pimentel’s query on the cost of arming firefighters, Sen. Dela Rosa said the small firearms mulled in the measure would cost an average of P35,000 each so that the total cost of arming over 2,000 BFP personnel is P79,880,000.

“As the Chairman of the Senate panel, I manifested during the bicameral meeting the sentiment and concerns raised by the members of the Senate during the first attempt to ratify the reconciled bill on the establishment of BFP Security and Protection Unit. However, the House conferees still insisted with their proposal to establish the BFP Security and Protection Unit or SPU,” Dela Rosa reported.

The bicameral panel subsequently “had a lengthy and extensive discussion regarding the creation and the composition” of the SPU, he added.

“Armed with the guidance from our Senate Majority Floor Leader Miguel Zubiri, the Senate panel thru Senator Tolentino proposed an amendment to the proposal of the House conferees. We included in the bill the specific number of BFP personnel for SPU in order to limit the authority of the BFP on the issuance of firearms.

With this amendment, the Senate panel thru Senator Hontiveros further amended the 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 trainings,” Dela
Rosa added.

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