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Sunday, September 22, 2019
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Seares: When height does not matter for cops, firefighters, jail guards

“I FAILED to make the chess team because of my height.”—Woody Allen

Last April 2013, then President Noynoy Aquino vetoed the House and Senate bills (HB #6203 and SB #3217),

which removed the requirement of height for personnel in the police, fire, and jail services.

Malacañang’s Abigail Valte, speaking for PNoy, cited two reasons for the rejection:

[1] The job requires physical attributes, notably height and size, for the safety of the worker and his colleagues and in serving and protecting citizens.

[2] The requirements may be waived under existing laws (the police act, Republic Act 6975, as amended by RA 85510); thus, scrapping totally the requirement is unnecessary.

‘No evidence’

Rep. Pablo John Garcia of Cebu’s third district announced last week he re-filed the bill that he proposed in the 16th Congress and PNoy vetoed six years ago.

For the same reason that he initiated and pushed the 2013 bill, Congressman PJ in his “Height Equality Act” argues there’s “no empirical evidence” that a person who meets the mandated height—5’4” or 1.62m for men and 5’2” or 1.57m for women—will be more effective in the work of cop, firefighter or jailer. PJ wants to end the discrimination that “heightism” promotes.

Image of responder

Valte—supported by police, fire and jail officials at the time—said there was no discrimination because the sector has its own set of requirements, particularly for the heavy and rough stuff, such as carrying to safety a victim from a raging fire or taking down a burly hoodlum.

The typical image of the crime/disaster responder, enhanced by TV and film, is that of a big and towering person who’s fit to fight crime or save the world.

Rewriting the rules

PNP, BFP and BJMP officials may be crucial to the passage of PJ’s re-filed bill. After all, they should know better what kind of people their organizations need. With their experience and studies through the years, they ought to have a say in rewriting the job qualifications that are now in the law.

Sen. Ping Lacson, a former national police chief, in 2013 said scrapping of the height rule was acceptable to him but wanted a limit on waistline. The present rule provides that excess or lack in weight of an applicant shouldn’t be more than five pounds of the appropriate weight per age and height, which doesn’t guarantee the absence of a pot belly. Yet the Senate ratified PJ’s House bill, sailing through until Malacanang, where PNoy killed it.

Possible objections

The ultimate decider is President Duterte. He might come up with same objections that PNoy raised--or approve the new bill with no hassle.

Still, most likely, Duterte will consider the thinking of the police, fire and jail chiefs. Do they favor removal of the height requirement or do they want to keep it? They can say, as PNoy did, that anyway existing laws allow the affected agencies to waive the rule in favor of short—all right, “vertically challenged”—applicants who have special talents. The re-filed bill, of course, aims to strike down the barrier for everyone affected, with no distinction, especially now that more law enforcers are needed.

PNoy is 5’9” (1.79m) while Duterte is 5’5” (1.68m)--but would the president’s own height influence decision on an issue involving alleged “heightism?” And, hey, as it is for chess players, there is no constitutionally prescribed height for presidents.


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