Press Release
September 16, 2020

Dela Rosa: Sponsorship Speech Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization Act Committee Report No. 111

Mr. President, my dear colleagues, magandang hapon sa ating lahat.

Taong 1996, tinupok ng lumalagablab na apoy ang Ozone Disco na ikinasawi ng 162 katao; 1998, nang masunog ang Bahay Kalinga sa Paco, Manila kung saan 25 ang namatay --- karamihan ay mga ulila na nakatira sa ampunang iyon; 2001, 75 ang hindi nakaligtas sa sunog sa Manor Hotel sa Quezon City; 2015, 74 factory workers ng Kentex Slipper Manufacturing ang namatay sa nasusunog na pabrika; 2017, 37 nating kababayan ang hindi pinalad na umabot ng Pasko dahil sa sunog na nangyari sa NCCC Mall, Davao.

Mr. President, these are only some of the deadliest fires in the Philippines in the past two decades.

Walang pinipiling panahon ang sunog. Katulad ito ng bagyo na kahit sa kasagsagan ng tag-init ay maaring mamuo at magdulot ng mapaminsalang baha.

Recently during the imposition of the community quarantine, fire razed the houses of around eight hundred (800) families in Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City --- one of the barangays with the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the city. Nakalulungkot na marami sa mga taga-barangay Addition Hills ang nawalan ng tirahan sa gitna ng kinakaharap nating pandemya. Nakalulungkot din na isa lang ito sa mga ilan pang naganap na sunog sa bansa habang tayo ay nasa community quarantine.

Mayroon nga tayong malimit na marinig lalo na sa mga nakakatanda: "Mas mabuti nang manakawan kaysa sa masunugan." Kaya naman, lagi nating sinisiguro na hindi magkakaroon ng sunog sa ating mga bahay. Kung magkakaroon man ng mga di inaasahang sunog, umasa tayo sa gobyerno na masusugpo agad ito. Ang tanong ngayon, gaano kahanda ang ating Bureau of Fire Protection o BFP sa ganitong uri ng sakuna?

It is in this light Mr. President that I stand today to sponsor Senate Bill No. 1832 under Committee Report No. 111 or the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Modernization Act of 2020. This bill is in substitution to Senate Bills No. 204, 947 and 1017 authored by Senators Go, Sotto, and Revilla, respectively.

The BFP is the country's primary agency responsible for fire safety, prevention and suppression, as mandated by Republic Act No. 6975. However, our valiant men and women of the BFP go beyond the duties and responsibilities of being firefighters. They perform a key role in rescue and retrieval operations in times of calamities and unforeseen disasters. According to BFP, they now cater to the public need for emergency pre-hospital care, act as the first line of defense in mass casualty incidents, hazardous material incident response, technical rescue/extrication, and participate in other specialized areas of responses to a variety of incidents that endanger lives and properties.

With these colossal tasks given to our firefighters and officers, the BFP is considered as one of the most 'undermanned' and 'under-equipped' government agencies.

In 2018, the BFP responded to 16,674 fire incidents in the country. Last year, there was an increase of 11.62% in fire incidents which surged the total number to 18,612 fires. These incidents brought about the destruction of properties and structures which is estimated at P4.56 billion in 2018 and P7.69 billion in 2019. But greater than any monetary loss are the deaths and injuries resulting from these incidents. The BFP reported that in 2018, there were 730 injuries and 216 deaths recorded, while in 2019, it increased to 1,055 injuries and 400 deaths.

Now, Mr. President, let us take a look at the capabilities of the BFP on fire protection and suppression. Out of 143 cities and 1,488 municipalities in the country, we only have 1,368 which have fire stations and fire trucks. 242 cities and municipalities still do not have their own. What happened to the mandate of the BFP in establishing at least one fire station in every province, city, and municipality all over the country? Meanwhile, there are a total of 2,848 firetrucks nationwide - 2,358 are BFP- owned, while 490 are LGU-owned.

Are these enough? The answer is no, Mr. President. We are far from reaching the ideal ratio of 1 fire truck for every 28,000 people. For a country with a population of 109 million, we must have at least 3,892 fire trucks. In the midst of this shortage and inadequacy in the number of fire trucks and firefighters, we are very thankful to our volunteer fire brigades, most especially in densely populated cities. Maraming salamat po!

The augmentation of volunteer fire brigades is very much appreciated. However, this should not be the norm but rather the exception. They should only supplement the government fire fighters rather than complete our inadequacies.

No less than the Chief of the BFP, Director Jose Embang, revealed that the Philippines is lagging in terms of personnel, training and equipment compared with the other fire departments of other countries. He expressed that it is crucial that the country maintain international fire safety standards.

Mr. President, with these reasons alone, we need to help the BFP. We need to boost their capabilities and modernize their equipment.

In line with this, your Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs includes the following on the committee version of the BFP Modernization Bill:

First, the powers and functions of the BFP will be expanded. Sec. 54, Chapter IV of RA 6975 will be amended to authorize the agency to respond to fire incidents in economic zones, free ports and special economic zones, IT parks/centers, tourism economic zones and other similar entities. Furthermore the BFP is now mandated to respond to man-made or natural disasters and other emergencies such as rescue, hazardous materials (HAZMAT), chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) materials and similar emergencies. To ensure public awareness, the BFP is required to conduct monthly fire prevention campaigns and information drives in coordination with the concerned local government units.

Second, the bill specifies the establishment and the implementation of the BFP Modernization Program which shall be completed over a period of three (3) years. The program shall include the following:

1. Establishment of Fire Protection Service which includes the institution of rescue hotlines in every city and town;

2. Envision of the organizational structure and staffing pattern of the Bureau. At present, there are a total of 405 civilian personnel and 27,968 uniformed personnel in the BFP. Currently, the proportion of fire trucks to fire officers is 1 is to 10, compared to the ideal ratio of one (1) firetruck is to fourteen (14) fire officers. Clearly, we need to increase the number of personnel in the Bureau to effectively respond to fire incidents;

3. The existing fire protection equipment and services of the BFP will be upgraded and enhanced also in order to cope with the expanded functions. There will be an acquisition of additional fire trucks, fire boats, ambulances, rescue trucks, and other fire fighting equipment. In like manner, there will be procurement of fire helicopters, fire arson response vehicles, trucks for forest firefighting, emergency medical, hazardous materials or HAZMAT as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) materials for the establishment of the specialized fire protection services of the Bureau; and

4. Continued training for the BFP personnel and hiring of experts and consultants in order to accelerate their personal development.

Lastly, the BFP is mandated under this measure to submit an annual report to Congress containing the priorities, schedules, phases and status of the implementation of the BFP Modernization Program for the appropriate review and monitoring of its implementation.

Mr. President, this legislative measure is one of the priority measures mentioned by President Duterte during his 5th State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) last July 27, 2020. This was the second SONA he asked the Congress to pass this legislation. Based on the reasons I mentioned, your Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs agrees with President Duterte -- there is a need to modernize our fire bureau to better save and protect the Filipino people.

Mr. President, muli ko pong hinihiling ang inyong pagsuporta upang muling punuan ang KULANG sa ating gobyerno. I urge the body to immediately pass this long overdue legislative measure to help the BFP in pursuing its mandate of 'promoting public safety by saving lives and protecting property in times of emergencies.'

Maraming salamat po!

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