MANILA (UPDATE) - Several senators on Friday lauded the "timely" and "historic" approval of the Anti-Terror Bill, saying the measure is needed to support the country's "economic rejuvenation" during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the controversial measure Friday afternoon, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Senate President Vicente Sotto III confirmed to ABS-CBN News in separate statements.
"I am glad the President has sifted through the rubble and saw the importance of the law," Sotto told reporters when asked for comment.
He allayed concerns over the measure, saying "law abiding citizens have nothing to fear."
"A democratic republic like ours is not a lame and anemic form of government due to many liberties and due processes every step of the way. When its very survival is threatened, it can raise its arms in self-defense, protect the people from ruthless ideologies and stop unrepentant agitators from sowing mayhem and disorder," Sotto said in further comments.
"This new law against terrorism is the answer. The government's hands are no longer tied. We now stand at par with many countries in the region in capacity- building measures against terrorists," he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said much of the credit goes to President Duterte.
"With all the pressure coming from different directions against the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, at the end of the day, it is his strong political will that mattered most," Lacson said.
"I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the president," he said.
For Sen. Francis Tolentino, the signing of the law is "very timely and historic as it is a measure needed by our nation."
"It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand [in hand] with economic rejuvenation post-COVID-19. We should all support this measure," he said.
Several groups - including the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao - have been campaigning against the approval of the Anti-Terror Act, saying it can be used to silence critics of the government.
Under the law, which supposedly strengthens the Human Security Act of 2007, suspected terrorists can be jailed up to 24 days without warrant.
The new law also authorizes the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze assets and bank accounts of individuals or groups tagged as terrorists.
But Sotto and Lacson continued to assert that the measure has enough safeguards to prevent law enforcers from abusing their authority.
"It’s full of safeguards but strong against terrorists. Unlike the old law, it was subject to abuse by the terrorists," Sotto told ABS-CBN News.
"Rest assured that I will exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation," Lacson said in a separate statement.
The Senate President said critics of the Anti-Terror Act may continue to campaign against the bill despite its approval.
"It’s a free country. Democracy guarantees their rights," he said.