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Four bills left hanging

Two weeks before President Duterte left his office, Senate President Tito Sotto reported that there were still 182 pending bills that have yet to be signed. Since then, many, mostly local in nature like renaming of roads and establishment of government satellite offices, have lapsed into law.

But there are at least four major proposals where no action was taken by the previous administration which President Marcos Jr. should sign, or allow to lapse into law.

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These are: 1. Vaporized Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Products Regulation Act (vape bill); 2. Permanent Validity of Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates; 3. Creation of a National Transportation and Safety Board; and 4. Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (Anti-OSAEC) Law. Let me discuss each a little.

The vape bill will be the first comprehensive antismoking measure the country will have since the passage of Republic Act No. 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003. If this bill becomes law, the state will help save millions of smokers’ lives because the bill gives them access to information on better alternatives, and the opportunity to switch to less harmful products. Fewer smoking-related illness means lower health care costs for the government. Second, the state will protect our youth and nonsmokers from starting as the bill is replete with provisions to ensure they do not get hold of vape products. More than half of the bill’s 30 provisions are intended to protect minors and nonsmokers. Third, the bill imposes stiff penalties on smugglers of vape products that will certainly emerge if this bill doesn’t become law. With this law, the government will generate billions of pesos in additional tax revenues from tax payments from a legal industry. Finally, the bill will provide additional income to our 2.7 million farmers, laborers, and workers dependent on the industry, especially during this time of COVID-19 recovery, as the bill encourages the use of local tobacco leaves in the manufacture of these products. There’s more to gain than lose with this bill.

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Permanent validity of births, deaths, and marriages makes great sense seeing how we’re the same unchanged person throughout our lives, even our condition of marriage doesn’t change as divorce isn’t allowed. Whilst validity of a death certificate? Well, unless you’re Lazarus, that’s certainly not likely to change. Incidentally, why is it births, deaths, marriages? Is there an assumption that when you get married you might as well be dead? That’s not how I feel about our marriage, but some? Well, maybe. This bill would also help Filipinos save some money since the bill prohibits national government agencies, local government units, or the private sector from requiring submission of newer copies of those certificates when an old, valid certificate can already be presented.

The creation of the Philippine Transportation Safety Board (PTSB) should also be prioritized. Under the bill, the PTSB will be the primary government body tasked to investigate any major or fatal air, maritime, or land transportation accident, including investigating threats. It will also be responsible for evaluating and harmonizing transportation safety standards with international safety standards. Currently, the task of investigating transport accidents is handled by different agencies (e.g., Maritime Industry Authority for sea accidents; Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines for air accidents). As stated by the Joint Foreign Chambers, the establishment of PTSB would address “the gap in bureaucracy which allegedly contributes to inefficiency in the implementation of transportation-safety schemes and ineffectual safety measures.”

Then, there’s the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children Law. This measure is vital especially now in the internet age and with the damage social media is doing. It will require electronic service providers, internet intermediaries, and financial intermediaries to block and remove websites that feature the abuse of minors. The bill also imposes penalties on those who are involved in the online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Finally, not a law to sign but a resolution to be ratified super-urgently by the Senate: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement that would allow us to join 14 of our neighbors in the greatest economic coalition since the European Union was formed. RCEP may even be a precursor to such a wide coalition.

RCEP is a 15-member free trade deal that accounts for one-third of the world’s economy, one-third of the global trade, and a market of 2.3 billion people. It also covers 50 percent of the global manufacturing output, 50 percent of the global automotive products, and 70 percent of electronic products. To not join will make us a pariah amongst investors. I detailed all the benefits in a three-part column back in May 2022.

The President should sign these four laws and join RCEP, showing his active support for them.

Email: [email protected]

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