By Ancelmo Miguel M. Catalla

Cartoon by Andrea Eslava

In its recent bicameral conference committee, the Senate’s approval of the modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) sparked a debate on adopting a provision that will arm 2,282 firefighters all over the country. However, we have to remember that militarization and modernization aren’t tarred with the same brush.

In 2019, we can remember that Pres. Duterte has stressed that the job of the bureau should not be limited to extinguishing fire, but also “hunting and killing enemies” when there are no fires to put out. The strongman also stated that it’s a “b******t idea” that the country’s firefighters shouldn’t be able to help in protecting the country’s law and order. 

Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, the chairman of the Senate bicameral conference committee first introduced a report on the proposed bill, but was rejected for deviating from the original provisions of the bill. However, he eventually gained support from fellow pro-administration senators. Now, P79,870,000 will be used to purchase more than two thousand handguns for firefighters.

To justify the provision of the bill, Dela Rosa shared anecdotes that during fire suppression, he himself personally had to take injured firefighters to hospitals. But do the former police chief’ “anecdotes” outweigh real recorded stories of armed authorities killing civilians? 

During the lockdown, authorities under the Duterte administration have displayed their obsession with extreme militaristic solutions. In December 2020, a police officer named Jonel Nuezca brutally shot two of his neighbors in front of his own daughter. Last May 2021, another off-duty cop was caught on video shooting a 52-year-old woman. Just recently, a barangay tanod murdered a curfew violator with a mental illness because he was noisy during curfew hours. 

Moreover, Sen. Dela Rosa’s solution to instill fear in civilians who don’t want to follow safety is undoubtedly counterproductive. During moments with escalating tensions, armed firefighters will only add panic to the already stressed fire victims. And if there are people who act violently during fires, it is more practical and efficient to ask help from local police than spend millions not just on acquiring guns, but also for training people to handle them. Certainly, militarizing the BFP will not be beneficial to both the firefighters and the civilians that they are trying to save. 

If the senate wants a modernized fire bureau, it is more practical to allocate funds for fire trucks and other firefighting equipment. It is crucial for our lawmakers to see that guns are not the only solution to the country’s problems. According to BFP-7 Superintendent Fritzie Manatad, some firemen have no choice but to borrow gear and personal protective equipment from their fellow firefighters. As we try to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important for this administration to prioritize these life-saving equipment over firearms that will not even help in extinguishing fire. Furthermore, an article by PhilStar Global in 2019 reports that more than 300 cities and municipalities in the country do not have their own fire trucks, this just proves that buying guns for firefighters is purely irrational. After all, fighting fire with fire will not extinguish the other, it would only leave us ashes.