Thirteen senators on Wednesday voted against President Duterte’s proposal allowing Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) personnel to carry firearms.
Among those who voted against the proposal were Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senators Panfilo Lacson, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva. The proposal was part of Senate Bill No. 1832 or the proposed Act Strengthening and Modernizing the Bureau of Fire Protection, which was sponsored by Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.
Prior to this, Drilon questioned the inclusion of the proposed amendment, noting that the proposal did not crop up during the plenary debates but was only presented during the period of amendments. Sen. Francis Tolentino eventually said the “very controversial” proposed amendment came from Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go. Dela Rosa defended the inclusion of the amendment, saying the President has deemed it necessary for firefighters to also be at the forefront of the government’s drive against criminality.
“This amendment was borne out of the request coming out from Malacanang, because the President, his intention was to arm the BFP personnel with short firearms, because he wanted to make this personnel available to support the law enforcement operations of the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines),” Dela Rosa said. Dela Rosa, a former PNP chief, admitted however, that half of the country’s firemen doubt the acceptability of arming themselves.
But the President wants to provide them even short firearms to be able to fight in situations like what occurred during the Zamboanga siege and the Marawi City siege.
“These firemen have nothing to protect themselves except fire hoses,” Dela Rosa pointed out. Poe questioned the amendment saying arming firefighters would be counterproductive as pointing to the budgetary constraints that the agency would face since modernizing the BFP equipment and provide them a fully-equipped fire laboratory and research and testing facilities in every region, should come as a priority.
“The mere fact, 50 percent of them are ambivalent about this, are not sure about whether or not they should have guns is a big indication that they themselves know the limit of their mandates,” Poe pointed out.
Eventually, the senators decided to put the proposed amendment: 13 senators voted against the proposal, two senators abstained and only four voted in favor of it.
Those who voted in favor of arming firefighters were Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senators Tolentino, Go, and Dela Rosa. Senators Sonny Angara and Imee Marcos abstained. Dela Rosa then finally conceded defeat after Sotto declared “that the motion is lost.”
The senator agreed and thanked Sotto for voting in favor of the amendment, saying he has no problem with losing in the voting, eliciting chuckles from other senators.
“Although I lost in the division of the house, Mr. President. It’s very important for me to know that the biggest pillar of the house is with me. I may lose the other parts of the house, but the biggest pillar of the House is with me. I have no problem,” he said, as he thanked Sotto.
“I’m a very happy loser, I’m not a sore loser at this time. I’m a very happy loser,” Dela Rosa said in jest. Sotto, however, assured Dela Rosa that the BFP should be aware that they may carry firearms when necessary, based on existing laws, as pointed out by Lacson, who is also a former PNP chief.
Zubiri, for his part, said Congress can request the PNP to issue the BFP personnel permit to carry firearms.
“It can be done. Without explicitly putting it under the law,” Zubiri said.