By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III is pushing for a legislation seeking to declare the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) as the sole authority over firefighting operations and the lone enforcer of the Republic Act 9514 or “Fire Code of the Philippines”, particularly in economic zones.
Sotto has filed Senate Bill No. 2196, which proposes to amend certain provisions of the RA 9154 and clarify the respective authorities and jurisdictions of the BFP, Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and other similar entities regarding the enforcement of the law.
In his bill, the Senate chief wants the BFP to have the “sole” responsibility to administer and enforce the Fire Code of the Philippines, under the direct supervision of the BFP chief.
This, as he noted that RA 9514 mandated the BFP to enforce the law to “all persons, buildings, facilities or structures erected before or after its effectivity.”
“However, despite the clear language of the Code, several government agencies and entities, such as the Philippine Economic Zone Authority had for a long time arrogated upon them the enforcement of the Fire Code of the Philippines to PEZA-registered economic zones,” Sotto said.
He cited the June 2, 2017 Resorts World Manila tragedy when a former employee of the Department of Finance reportedly addicted to gambling attacked and burned a portion of the Pasay City casino and caused the death of 37 persons.
He said the incident revealed the overlapping authority of the BFP and PEZA in the enforcement of RA 9514.
Prior to the said incident, similar fire incidents had previously occurred where the issue was brought to fore, Sotto said.
Under the SB 2196, the BFP shall conduct trainings for support and assist fire volunteers, practitioners and fire volunteer organizations and fire safety practitioners in the country.
“The BFP may enter into external party agreement for the conduct of trainings, education and evaluations for fire volunteers, practitioners, fire brigade and fire volunteer organizations, which shall be under the full control and supervision of the BFP,” the proposal stated.
However, firefighting operations should be under the direct operational control and the fire ground commander of the BFP, it added.
Aside from the overlapping jurisdictions, Sotto also cited other reasons for the need to amend and update the country’s Fire Code.
Some provisions in the present Code, Sotto said, were found to be in conflict with President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy on the streamlining of the processing of business and other local permits.
The bill likewise seeks “to harmonize the assessment and collection of fire code fees to the assessment and collection made by the local government units for construction-related permits and business permits.”
Sotto also proposes to expand the utilization of fire code collections, noting that RA 9514 prevented the bureau to acquire properties for the establishment of national, regional, provincial offices and city or municipal fire stations.
He said the present law also does not expressly allow the utilization of the fees collection for the acquisition of rescue vehicles, tools, devices and equipment, which are “necessary in order for the BFP to successfully perform its mandate of saving lives and properties.”
Furthermore, the proposed measure provide more “stringent penalties for every acts that tend to compromise fire safety that endangers the lives and limbs as well as properties of the citizens of the Philippines,” Sotto added.
The country observes Fire Prevention Month this March, which is one of the hottest months in the country according to Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
Various government data have showed that a high number of fire incidents take place within the month.