Senate rejects bicam version of BFP modernization bill

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The Senate on Thursday voted to reject the bicameral conference version of the bill that seeks to modernize the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) over disagreements on a provision allowing firefighters to carry weapons. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 3) — The Senate on Thursday voted to reject the bicameral conference version of the bill that seeks to modernize or strengthen the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) over disagreements on a provision allowing firefighters to carry weapons.

With a 11-8-3 vote, the measure will be sent back to the bicameral conference committee, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said during the plenary session. The chamber needed 12 affirmative votes to ratify the committee report.  Sotto said the Senate will request the House of Representatives to form a new panel to review the measure.

During the session, senators raised that a provision which seeks to arm firefighters during operations was added to the bicam version even though it was voted down during the Senate deliberations.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon recalled that 13 senators were against the provision when it was tackled in the upper chamber in March.

"The mandate of the Senate contingent to the bicameral conference committee is to convince the other panel that our version should be adopted," said Drilon.

"It is very dangerous if we allow our Senate contingent to go against the policy adopted by the Senate," he also said.

Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, sponsor of the measure, insisted that the rejected provision of the Senate was different from the provision introduced by the bicam. The rejected provision in the Senate pushed for all BFP personnel to bear firearms as well as to perform "quasi-police functions," Dela Rosa pointed out, while the bicam proposal would allow arming only some 2,282 firefighters.

Dela Rosa said the House panel proposed the provision and he accepted it "in the spirit of give and take." He also argued that certain circumstances warrant the need for firefighters to be armed.

"Maraming instances na po...na during fire incidents inaagaw 'yung kanilang hose," explained Dela Rosa. "Minsan meron pang mga fireman sinasaksak dahil gusto ng mga tao unahin 'yung kanilang bahay na bombahan ng tubig."

[Translation: There are many instances during fire incidents when people would grab their fire hose. Sometimes they get stabbed because people would want firefighters to prioritize hosing their homes with water].

[Translation: There are many instances during fire incidents when people would grab their fire hose. Sometimes they get stabbed because people would want firefighters to prioritize saving their houses].

Drilon said these reasons were already discussed during the Senate hearing.

Senator Richard Gordon added that Dela Rosa could have consulted the Senate if he had faced a quandary in the discussion of the provision during the bicameral conference.

Gordon also contended that the need to arm firefighters is a slap in the face of the police who should be available to respond to the fire bureau's need for protection.

"It will show...that we are not in control of the peace and order situation of the country," said Gordon.

Senator Pia Cayetano also said there was another provision in the bill that states the bureau can request assistance from the police or any government agency.

The bill, also known as the proposed BFP modernization act, expands the powers and functions of the fire bureau. Under the measure, regional fire laboratories and research and testing facilities shall be established, among others.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Eimor Santos and Digital Producer Janine Peralta contributed to this report.