updated 6/25/2006 12:20:23 PM ET 2006-06-25T16:20:23

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed a law abolishing the death penalty on Saturday, giving final approval to a measure that divided many Filipinos.

Arroyo, who like most of her people is Roman Catholic, sought to assure the nation that her opposition to capital punishment had not undermined her commitment to fighting crime.

“We will never be intimidated by these treacherous acts, and we shall fight terror as seriously as we embrace peace,” she said, referring to a car bomb that killed six people Friday in an area where Muslim separatists are active.

More than 1,200 death-row convicts — including at least 11 al-Qaida-linked militants — will benefit from the ban.

The bill cleared the Philippine legislature earlier this month despite protests from anti-crime activists who believe Arroyo rushed its approval to please the pope. The president leaves Sunday on a trip to the Vatican where she is scheduled to meet with Benedict XVI.

Papal Nuncio Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the Vatican’s envoy to Manila, congratulated Arroyo and legislators who supported the measure.

Arroyo signed the law shortly after returning to the presidential palace from a hospital where she was taken late Thursday suffering from acute diarrhea.

“We shall continue to devote the increasing weight of our resources to the prevention and control of serious crimes, rather than take the lives of those who commit them,” she said.

The death penalty had been abolished in the Philippines in 1987 but was restored in late 1993 for heinous crimes such as murder, child rape and kidnapping. Seven people have been executed since then.

Critics of the new measure said it could prompt relatives of crime victims to take the law into their own hands, or lead to increased crime.

But Sen. Manuel Villar, who supports the ban, said capital punishment had not deterred crime in the Philippines.

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