MANILA - Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas on Friday lamented President Rodrigo Duterte's signing of the controversial anti-terror bill, saying the Philippines is "taking the wrong path."
The President earlier Friday signed into law Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, that seeks to sharpen the Philippines' anti-terrorism campaign. Lawyers and activists say it could be used to silence government critics.
Villegas, the former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement that he "deeply regrets" Duterte's decision to sign the measure despite the "vehement objections of well-meaning citizens."
"It is morally wrong, we humbly submit, to leave the terms of such powerful bill to the interpretation of the reckless and the power trippers," he said.
The prelate stressed that "violence can never undo violence" in addressing terrorism in the Philippines.
"The Church has long taught that only the praxis of true Christian love has the power to break the cycle of violence," Villegas said.
He said that even though the Catholic Church agrees with the government on its view on terrorism and extremists, the long-standing institution does "not wish to meet violence and blind rage with heightened violence and legitimated terror."
"We would rather as one, engage in the difficult but necessary task of building a culture that listens, that leaves none out, that accommodates differences," Villegas said, adding that
"this same culture of inclusive listening will soon strip" terrorists of reason to confine to margins of society.
"Peace is the only way to peace."
Critics have blasted the bill, which toughens the 2007 Human Security Act, as it could be abused to violate basic rights due to the broad definition of "terrorism" in the measure's provisions.
Lawmakers, including principal author Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, have defended the bill, describing it as a game-changer to the Philippines' supposed weak stance on terrorism.