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Gun-toting Firemen. A Stroke of Genius, or a Bad Idea?

Narrow streets and side-by-side houses make many Philippine cities a tinderbox ready to burst into flames
Narrow streets and side-by-side houses make many Philippine cities a tinderbox ready to burst into flames. Photo: philnews.ph

n his speech during the 28th anniversary of the Bureau of Fire Protection’s (BFP) founding, President Rodrigo Duterte made an unusual suggestion. According to an August 01, 2019 article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (INQ), Duterte told his audience of firefighters “Pa-issuehan ko kayo ng baril, kayong mga bumbero. Pagkatapos ng tubig, tao naman ang hanapin ninyo” [I will have guns issued to you firemen. After the water, go hunt for people]. Duterte, the article noted, went on to say, “You help in the maintenance of peace and order…make it safe for everybody.”

Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac a spokesman for the Philippine National Police (PNP) quickly acknowledged Duterte’s remarks. A subsequent INQ article quoted Banac as saying that “the PNP supports the idea of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to arm uniformed members of the BFP as augmentation forces in law enforcement and public order operations of the police.” Banac continued “this move of tapping the BFP as [a] force multiplier by allowing its uniformed personnel to bear firearms would also further bolster the government’s campaign against criminality and effectively capacitate the BFP in responding to [a] national emergency.”

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Ao, the INQ article noted “also liked Duterte’s idea” but narrowed its scope with the phrase “at least for self-defense.” Ao continued, “we can always presume that they can also be targeted by terrorists and criminal groups … so I support the idea that they be issued short firearms.”

A PhilStar.com article, on the other hand, questioned whether firefighters were allowed or trained to carry guns during firefighting operations? A Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) official noted that “there are no laws or regulations that spell out whether firefighters must be armed while on duty or not.”

The PhilStar.com article further noted that the BFP’s own operational procedures manual states that firefighters who assist law enforcement agencies “shall not carry any kind of firearms or deadly weapons during actual Crowd Dispersal Management operation.”

Lastly, PhilStar.com’s article notes that “Meanwhile, more than 332 towns, cities have no fire trucks.” According to data released in March by the BFP itself, “a majority of the localities still without fire trucks are in the impoverished Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”

The government has a choice, it can use the country’s limited funds to procure weapons, and then train BFP employees in their proper and safe use. Or it can use those funds to train and equip firefighters to better fight fires. Published 8/4/2019

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Philippine NewsLink: www.philnews.com

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