Arming the 29,286 firefighters of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) this year is both timely and practical in the government's drive against criminality, illegal drugs, terrorism, and violent extremism, Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo M. Año said yesterday.
"Maintaining law and order is not an easy task. Despite the decreasing crime rate in the country, having the BFP's firefighters in our peace and order campaign is a boost and welcome addition in ensuring a safe and secure country," he said.
The DILG Chief said that the arming of BFP uniformed personnel was in line with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's earlier directive of "engaging the help of the BFP to maintain law and order and not to limit themselves to fire-fighting."
Año said that "having more hands fighting for the same cause would not hurt" as the government gears towards putting an end to violent extremism and illegal drugs and other forms of criminality.
He said the BFP, along with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), is permitted by law to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines in times of national emergency if ordered by the President under Republic Act 6975.
"The BFP also does law enforcement functions because they enforce the Fire Code so they already have some experience in this regard. The BFP can help ensure public safety, as a support to the PNP and AFP but of course, their primary responsibility is still preventing and suppressing fire and enforcement of the Fire Code," he said.
According to Año, firefighters will be armed with 9MM pistols to strengthen the government's law enforcement campaign and also for self-defense purposes as fire victims, out of frustration, sometimes gang up on fire personnel during firefighting operations.
"May mga pagkakataon na sa kagustuhan ng mga tao na unahing isalba ang kanilang nasusunog na bahay, kinukuyog nila ang mga bombero at nagkakagulo. Nais din naman nating protektahan at sundin ng mga tao ang ating mga bombero habang ginagawa nila ang kanilang trabaho," he explained.
He said that the BFP has requested funds from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to finance the purchase of 29,286 9MM firearms for the use of each uniformed BFP personnel.
He said firefighters would undergo marksmanship and gun safety training before the issuance of their firearms. "Hindi rin naman natin basta-basta aarmasan sila ng walang tamang training," the DILG Secretary said.
For his part, newly-appointed BFP Director Jose Segundo Embang said he welcomes the Presidential directive to arm BFP uniformed personnel and saw it as an upgrade in terms of responsibilities and skills to cope with the demands of the times.
"Hindi na ito yong conditional firefighters na nakikita natin before. Ito na iyong mga modern heroes, kung makikita ninyo sa mga disasters, hindi lang sa mga natural disasters but even during manmade disasters, kasi sila talaga ang first responders, sila ang cornerstone of emergency preparedness and response," Embang said.
"Ngayon ay makakasama na kami sa pagpapanatili ng public safety,” he added.