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Simple laws to make our lives simpler

By: Senator Manny Villar

I spent more than two decades as a legislator. In the years I spent at the Senate and the House of Representatives, I have seen many laws debated and enacted. There were laws that were very technical and complicated like the E-VAT law and the Anti-Money Laundering Law. But there were also laws that were so simple and its impact to society so significant.

Last week, the President signed a trio of simple bills that I believe are designed to make our people’s lives simpler and easier.

First, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act.

It mandates the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to effect the provision of free internet access in national and local government offices, public basic education institutions, state universities and colleges, technology institutions, public hospitals, health centers, and rural health units, public parks, plazas, libraries and barangay reading centers, public airports and seaports, public transport terminals.

In my previous column, I already discussed the political and social significance of universal internet access which according to the United Nations (UN) constitutes a fundamental social and political right. But imagine how this will impact the everyday lives of our people.

Imagine yourself caught in the middle of heavy rains with no public transport in site. You can access the free internet and send a Viber message to your loved ones to tell them you’re okay and that you will be home soon. Or you can launch your Uber or Grab app and hope to get a ride home.

What if you get lost trying to find a friend’s house or a meeting place to do business? Well, you can use the free internet and use Google Maps or any other navigation apps to find your way.

There are also implications with regard to security, disaster preparedness and citizen journalism. How easier would it be for a ‘citizen journalist’ to report a fire, a crime, or flooding using Twitter or Facebook?

I hope government agencies not only comply with this very good law but also orient their organizations towards better, more efficient service using the internet. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for instance, can use its great social media presence to easily spot, and respond to traffic violations, road hazards, and the like.

Second, the chief executive also signed Republic Act No. 10928 into law extending the validity of passports to 10 years. Although there are certain limitations with regard to national security, the law is envisioned to “make traveling abroad easier and to lessen the burden of citizens, who would no longer need to keep on renewing their passports every five years”.

Imagine how simple this is. You extend the period of validity and you potentially shorten the queue of people seeking renewal of passports at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). I have always thought that making citizens line up for hours is demeaning and disrespectful, not to mention a sign of inefficiency. This law hopefully can address that concern. And with Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano at the helm of DFA, I am hopeful long lines would be a thing of the past.

More and more Filipinos are traveling abroad. They are exposed to the culture and society of other countries. They can compare and hopefully do something productive when they come back to the country. In other words, more travel equals bigger perspective. This law helps us achieve that.

Third, Republic Act No. 10930 was also signed into law extending the validity period of drivers’ licenses to five years. Additionally, drivers who have no traffic violation during the five-year period can renew their driver’s license for a validity of 10 years.

Again, another simple solution to the kilometric line one usually finds at the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and in many of its satellite offices. Increasing the validity period of drivers’ licenses makes the process more efficient.

It also provides incentives to drivers to follow the law so they can avail of longer period of validity.

It is true what Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Some of our problems are indeed complex but many are uncomplicated requiring simple solutions.

It is not true that legislation requires you to be a lawyer so you can sort out the convoluted language of the law.

Making laws simply requires you to understand the root causes of our problems and craft simple solutions to our ills.