MANILA- "Activism is not terrorism, and terrorism is not activism."
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon assured the nation Wednesday that the stricter anti-terror law would not be used to silence government critics as it allayed concerns that the measure might be abused.
"In pursuit of this policy, the government cannot prejudice respect for human rights which shall be absolute and protected at all times," Esperon said in a forum ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's fifth State of the Nation Address.
"It is therefore very clear that activism is not terrorism and terrorism is not activism," he added.
The new law defines terrorism as intending to cause death or injury, damage to government or private property or use of weapons of mass destruction to "spread a message of fear" or intimidate the government.
Critics allege the legislation also strips away old safeguards, such as penalties against law enforcers for wrongful detention of suspects.
Esperon, a former military chief who advocated for a stricter Philippine law against terrorism, gave the assurance days after the new anti-terror law took effect.
He added the anti-terror law has enough safeguards to protect the rights of the people, claiming it would usher in a "culture of security" for the Philippines.
"The Anti-Terrorism Act will usher in a culture of security through orderly and legal implementation of laws and procedures...Kaya 'wag matakot sa anti-terror law, ito ay para sa atin," he said.
(Don't be afraid of the anti-terror law because it is for us.)
President Duterte signed the measure into law on July 3 despite heavy opposition from rights groups and in the middle of the country's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The law is facing several legal challenges before the Supreme Court.