PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a measure extending the validity of Philippine passports from five years to 10 years.

Republic Act (RA) 10928, which was signed by Duterte on August 2, Wednesday, amends Section 10 of RA 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 which declared five-year validity period of passports.

The newly-signed law provides that regular passports shall be valid for a period of 10 years.

However, a passport with five-year validity will be issued to individuals under 18 years of age.

The law also states that the issuing authority may limit the period of validity to less than 10 years “whenever in the national economic or political stability of the country, such restriction is necessary.”

A new passport may also be issued to replace one which validity has expired.

Under RA 10928, the Department of Foreign Affairs is designated to issue implementing rules and regulations that will make the passport processing system “seamless, convenient and pro-people.”

The law is a consolidation of Senate Bill 1365 and House Bill 4767 approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives on May 17 and May 16, respectively.

Free public wifi

Meanwhile, Duterte has also signed into law a measure establishing free Internet access program in public places.

Under RA 10929 titled “Free Internet Access in Public Places Act,” Duterte explained that the establishment of free public Wi-FI would “promote knowledge-building among citizens and enable them to participate in the evolving information and communication age.”

The public can now access free Internet connection in “national and local government offices; public basic education institutions; state universities and colleges, and technology institutions; public hospitals, health centers, and rural health units; public parks, plazas, libraries and barangay reading centers; public airports and seaports; and public transport terminals.”

The law provides that no fees shall be collected from users to connect to the public Internet access points.

It also states that the limited Internet access shall only be effective “when there is clear and present technical risk or breach that cannot be remedied through ordinary technical solutions.”

The law, however, forbids access to pornographic websites.

RA 10929 designates the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) as the lead agency to oversee the effective and efficient implementation of the law.

The DICT, in coordination with the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography and in consultation with telecommunication companies, shall develop standards and mechanisms for the protection of children online, consistent with existing laws on the rights and protection of children’s welfare.

The law also allows the DICT to form partnership with the private sector to promote an “efficient and cost-effective” delivery of the free Internet access for public places.

It also prohibits preferential treatment to a single telecommunication firm to prevent restricted Internet access. Those who will violate shall be subject to administrative penalties under existing civil service laws, rules and regulations.

“Any unfair methods of competition and exclusivity arrangements in favor of a single telecommunications entity shall be prohibited to promote the free unrestricted access to public places covered under this Act,” it said.

After one-year implementation of RA 10929, the National Telecommunications Commission shall issue rules on minimum standards for quality of services, including download speed, latency, packet loss, and jitter for public free Internet service.

The DICT has the authority to impose penalties upon Internet service providers that will not comply with the minimum standards set by the NTC and the agreed quality of service.

Free Public Internet Access Fund, under the management of DICT, is also created to provide the financing for the implementation of the law. The funds will be taken from DICT, NTC, and the National Privacy Commission.

Duterte signed RA 10929 on August 2, Wednesday.

The law is a consolidation of Senate Bill 1277 and House Bill 5225 passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on May 24 and May 23, respectively. (SunStar Philippines)