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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 11:21 GMT
Philippines approves terror bill
Opening ceremony of the Balikatan exercises in Manila on 19 February
Terror threats are the focus of annual US-Philippine war games
An anti-terror bill has been passed in the Philippines aimed at tackling militants in the south.

The Human Security Act was approved by the House of Representatives late Monday and now goes to President Gloria Arroyo to be signed into law.

Ms Arroyo hailed the bill as a "potent weapon" to shield the country from the "global scourge" of terrorism.

Manila has long been urged by the US and other Western countries to bring in anti-terror legislation.

The bill - which was ratified by the Senate two weeks ago - was watered down after opposition from some politicians and rights groups who feared the legislation would endanger human rights.

Crackdown fears

Under the new law, security forces have the power to detain suspects without warrant or charge for up to three days.

It also allows authorities to access bank accounts they believe are being used to launder money for terrorist purposes.

Filipino soldier making security checks in the south
The Philippine military is battling insurgents in the south

A conviction for terror offences could result in a 40-year jail sentence.

In a bid to allay fears of rights violations, people who are wrongly detained will be offered compensation.

However, even a watered down version has not satisfied the bill's opponents, correspondents say.

They fear Mrs Arroyo - already facing criticism over hundreds of extra-judicial killings in the country - will use the law to curb civil liberties and to crack down on her political adversaries.

The government said the terror bill is necessary to give it the teeth to fight militants in the south of the country, particularly the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf is thought to have links with both al-Qaeda and the regional militant group Jemaah Islamiah, and has been blamed for a number of kidnappings and bombings in the region.

War games

Debate of the bill came as the Philippines began new joint military exercises with US forces on Monday. The annual Balikatan exercises will run until 4 March.

The focus of the war games scenarios will be naval threats including ship hijackings and piracy, and cross-border attacks by Islamic extremists.

"This is the first time that we'll have this type of maritime scenario," Major-General Stephen Tom, commander of the 400 US troops joining about 1,000 from the Philippine military for the exercises.

"We'll make sure both sides practice their techniques and procedures so if the crisis becomes so real, they will be able to operate effectively."

The US had cancelled the war games amid a row with the Philippine authorities over the handling of a US marine convicted of rape in the country.

A Manila court remanded Lance Corporal Daniel Smith in jail following his conviction on 4 December - a move which Washington said broke a special bilateral agreement over the treatment of US troops in the country.

The US reinstated the exercises after the Philippines handed L/Cpl Smith to US custody.

Guide to the Philippines conflict
10 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Is this the end for Abu Sayyaf?
23 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Double bomb attack in Philippines
10 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Manila alert after prison deaths
16 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Bloody end to Manila jail break
15 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
20 Dec 06 |  Country profiles

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