A former three-term mayor of Valenzuela City has renewed his call on the Department of lnterior and Local Government (DILG) to transfer the administrative and operational control over the local Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to mayors and governors.
Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian made the call, expressing belief this would make local government units (LGUs) directly accountable to the people in light of the fire that gutted down a slipper factory, which killed 72 people.
“The devolution of the BFP to LGUs will strengthen the fire prevention aspect of provincial, city and municipal governments and this will make governors and mayors accountable to the people whenever there are fire incidents in establishments that failed to comply with fire prevention mechanisms,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian cited the yearly renewal of fire permit by owners of commercial buildings and factories, which is given by the BFP after it has conducted the yearly inspection of said establishments as part of its fire prevention plan, as an example.
As a rule, the LGU has no hand in the giving of fire permit but with the proposed devolution of BFP administrative and operational control, local government executives will now be responsible in directing local fire officials to do their yearly inspection to ensure that these establishments conform to existing fire safety standard.
“Giving local executives the administrative and operational control of BFP will prevent finger-pointing whenever there is a fire incident in their area of responsibility. Accountability will now be solely in the hands of the local chief executive,” said Gatchalian.
The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) congressman issued the call for the devolution of BFP control to LGUs in the wake of the seven-hour blaze that engulfed a slipper factory at Sitio Gitna in Barangay Ugong resulting in the death of at least 70 people, including two relatives of the factory owner.
The fire caused by welding sparks that ignited nearby chemical containers is said to be the biggest blaze to have hit the city in terms of casualties, which is expected to rise as firefighters begin the recovery of bodies. Property damage was placed by the local BFP at around P50 million.
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“Governors, city mayors, and municipal mayors should be given broader administrative powers in handling local fire-fighting measures and mechanisms given their active involvement in supplementing the deficiencies of BFP stations operating within their jurisdiction,” said Gatchalian, a member of House Committee on Local Government.
“This tragic incident that killed so many lives in Valenzuela City serves as a strong reason why the DILG must strengthen the powers of local chief executives to ensure much quicker and more effective response from the government in case another fire breaks out,” the lawmaker added.
In a BFP report, the total number of fire casualties in the country has consistently increased from 911 to 1,018 or at an annual average of 3.8 percent from 2010 to 2013.
In 2013 alone, a total of 12,301 total fire occurrences nationwide is equivalent to P5.5 billion worth of property damage.
The annual increase of fire incidence prompted Gatchalian last year to file House Bill No. 4662, which seeks to give governors as well as city and municipal mayors joint authority, responsibility, and accountability with the BFP.
His nine years as Valenzuela City mayor convinced Gatchalian that empowering LGUs in handling local fire-fighting mechanisms will enhance the implementation of fire prevention plans, hasten the delivery of services and improve public safety.
Gatchalian’s HB 4662 seeks to amend the provisions of Republic Act No. 6975 or the “Local Government Act of 1990” that enables local government units (LGUs) to enjoy meaningful local autonomy and become self-reliant communities.
Under the proposed measure, governors and mayors would be deputized as representatives of the DILG Secretary in their respective localities in exercising and supervising the operations of BFP personnel and offices.
“Provincial governors would have the power to choose the provincial and district fire marshals recommended by the Regional Director of Fire Protection and BFP district offices,” said Gatchalian.
“City and municipal mayors would be given authority to conduct operational supervision and control and impose due penalties for minor offenses on BFP personnel in their respective jurisdictions,” he added.
HB 4662 is currently pending before the House Committee on Public Order and Safety. (Tim Alcantara)