SENATE President Aquilino Pimentel III said the Senate had successfully marked the passage of a number of landmark bills on public services, health and justice reforms including approval on third and final reading a bill seeking to extend the validity of professional and non-professional driver’s license from three years to five years.
With 21 affirmative votes during the last Senate plenary session on Wednesday, Senate Bill (SB) 1449 or "Extending the Validity Period of Driver's Licenses" to five years gained support from the majority senators.
The measure was authored by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto and Senators Richard Gordon, Joseph Victor Ejercito and Joel Villanueva.
The proposed law sought to amend Section 23 of Republic Act 4136, as amended by Batas Pambansa Blg. 398 and Executive Order (EO) 1011 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code.
As one of the author, Senator Recto said he is expecting this to help drivers applying LTO for renewal of their licenses and with the passing of the bill into law, "they need not suffer long queues anymore".
Recto said the bill was "the best anti-red tape measure the government could adopt for LTO."
He said the measure was not complicated and could derive results immediately at the least cost to the government and the public.
Other approved packages of bills include the following: the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (SB 1468), Teaching Supplies Allowance Act of 2017 (SB 812), Agricultural Free Patent Reform Act of 2017 (SB 1454), Sagip Saka Bill (SB 1281), "Tulong-Trabaho" Bill (SB 1431), and a bill extending the validity of professional and non-professional drivers to five years (SB 1449).
For his part, Pimentel said it had been an eventful session for the Senate, and thanked his colleagues, along with officials and employees of the chamber, for their hard work "on what we have accomplished thus far."
"We celebrated our 100th anniversary during this session. Throughout our session, we were guided in our efforts by the 11-point agenda we agreed upon to form the majority. In addition to that is the general expression of support for President Duterte's agenda for change," he said.
Pimentel noted that since the 17th Congress began last July 25, 2016, senators had filed 1,499 bills which are now in various stages of legislation.
"It has not only been an eventful session, it has been a productive session as well," he said.
Pimentel said that four bills in the 17th Congress have already been signed into law, foremost of which was the 2017 General Appropriations Act (Republic Act 10924).
"As Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III always reminds us, the most important law of each year is the budget. This is the 2017 Budget for Change. In this budget, we shared the nation's blessings with all our countrymen in the form of novel ideas like the free tuition in State Universities and Colleges, free irrigation for farmers, free health insurance coverage for all, and well distributed strategic infrastructure works, among others," he said.
Six more landmark bills passed by the Senate had already been submitted to Malacanang for President Duterte's signature, including three public services bills: the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act (SB 1277), which would provide free internet access in public places and government offices; Philippine Passport Act (SB 1365), which would extend the validity of Philippine passports to 10 years; and the bill that strengthens the Anti- Hospital Deposit Law (SB 1353), which would impose higher penalties on hospitals that refuse to administer treatment to emergency patients.
Also in the same list were the Free Higher Education for All Act (SB 1304), which would provide for full tuition subsidies to students in state universities and colleges; and the amendments to the Revised Penal Code (SB 14), which sought to adjust the amounts under the 87-year-old Revised Penal Code to prevent cruel and excessive punishment, and the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (SB 1468), which would expand the coverage of the AMLA to include casinos.
The Senate had also earlier ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the bill extending the validity of driver's licenses to five years (SB 1449).
In addition, Pimentel said that the Senate had passed 33 more bills on third and final reading.
A number of these bills focused on improving and expanding government services to various sectors, such as the Sagip Saka Bill (SB 1281), the "Tulong-Trabaho" Bill (SB 1431), the Telecommuting Act of 2017 (SB 1363), the Philippine Innovation Act (SB 1355).
They also included measures on improving the country's health services such as the Mental Health Act of 2017 (SB 1354) and the Expanded Maternity Leave Act of 2017 (SB 1305).
Also passed by the Senate were bills aimed at improving the country's justice such as the bill amending the Department of Interior and Local Government Act of 1990 (SB 1239).
The Senate also adopted 51 resolutions out of 399 proposed resolutions that have been filed. The resolutions included the accession of the Senate to treaties such as the Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the RP-Japan Agreement on Social Security, and the landmark Paris Agreement.
The Senate leader credited the whole institution for the achievements made during the First Regular Session, and said that "without the full and complete support and efforts of the entire Senate family, there would not have been any achievement to report."
"We may have this Majority-Minority division, but in actuality, we are one big family," he said.
"Because of your efforts, our beloved institution would stand proud before the President when he gives his State of the Nation Address, knowing we have done our job well," he added.
He cited a Social Weathers Station survey released earlier this month which showed that the Senate received the highest satisfaction rating among the top four institutions in the country - along with the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives.
Pimentel said that while the Senate had achieved much in the First Regular Session, "our work is not yet done."
"Forty-six bills remain pending on Second Reading, while 1,251 bills remain pending in our committees, awaiting public hearings," he said.
Pimentel said he had absolutely no doubt that the Senate could accomplish all its tasks when they return for the 2nd Regular Session in July.
'When we return refreshed and re-energized, we will be better equipped to work on the Charter Change and the long-awaited shift to federalism," he said.
"Together, we will build a Senate that is independent, responsible, and responsive. A Senate that is a pillar of democracy and the pride of the Filipino people," he said.
"Every bill we pass, every resolution we adopt, every hearing we conduct, we move closer to a Philippine society which is just and fair, which saves and shares, which is scientific and objective, which is peaceful and democratic, which is educated and healthy, and which is, most of all, happy and free, with overflowing love of God and country," Pimentel concluded. (SunStar Philippines)