September 17, 2008
Senate to approve bill updating
Senate President Manny Villar today said the Senate would fast-track the passage of a bill updating the 30-year-old Fire Code of the Philippines that will make the country's fire prevention measures more responsive to the times through more stringent measures against violators of fire disaster-preparedness standards.
Villar added that with an updated Fire Code, fire incidents such as the fire that razed the Calasiao Municipal Hall in Pangasinan with an estimated damage worth P100 million, will be prevented.
Villar, president of the Nacionalista Party, is one of the principal sponsors of Senate Bill 2553 which seeks to revise the Fire Code of the Philippines that was established through Presidential Degree 1185 issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos on August 26, 1977. The consolidated bill is also authored by Senators Francis Escudero, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ramon Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan and Benigno Aquino III.
"The antiquated Fire Code of the Philippines needs to be revised to make it responsive to the times. It cannot be denied that PD 1185 is no longer attuned to our needs in fire prevention," said Villar, who said he hoped that the bill could be signed into law before the advent of the summer months next year.
The Senate President said he met with the top officials of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the Department of the Interior and Local Governments (DILG), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and representatives of local fire volunteer brigades recently to discuss the bill and assured them that it would be given top priority status in the Senate.
"I am sure we will pass this bill soon," said Villar. "The country urgently needs a new fire code, especially with hot summer months fast approaching. I am confident that we will have this law implemented when we celebrate the Fire Prevention Month in March next year."
Among the highlights of the bill are: requiring the accreditation and training of fire volunteers nationwide; providing stiffer penalties against erring fire personnel who fail to perform their duties and prevent damage to lives and properties during fire incidents; and imposing more stringer penalties against building owners who fail to comply with the Fire Code.
The bill is now under the period of interpellations and defended by Senator Honasan, chairman of the Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs.
"The laxity and indifference of public officers in the enforcement of fire laws is due to the lesser degree of their accountability under the present Fire Code," Villar explained. "This bill will provide not only administrative sanctions but also criminal liabilities for acts of omission or negligence committed by fire officers."
At the same time, Villar said, the bill provides for penalties for owners, administrators, occupants and persons responsible for the condition of a building structure to comply with the rules and regulations of the amended Fire Code.
The Senate President said the fire investigations showed that the primary reason for a number of fire tragedies such as the Ozone Disco and the Manor Hotel fire disasters were caused by the laxity in the enforcement of building safety and fire prevention rules and regulations and other related ordinances.
Villar also noted that there was a need to update the "command system" in terms of raising alarms and designating fire inspectors to inspect buildings, which are all currently centralized at the Chief of the Bureau of Fire Protection.
He added the bill will institute a system of accreditation of fire volunteer brigades so that they can be more organized in accommodating independent fire response units.
Villar said under the proposed law, owners of residential and commercial buildings will be criminally liable in case of fire that may cause death and damages to persons and properties resulting from their non-compliance with the national and local fire safety laws. The present Fire Code, he added, does not impose penalties against erring owners of residential and commercial establishments.
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