The Philippines has become the 125th nation to abolish the death penalty, with President Gloria Arroyo signing a law ending capital punishment following its earlier passage by the legislature.

At a signing ceremony in the Presidential Palace, Mrs. Arroyo hailed the new law as a big step forward for the Philippines, but also assured critics she will remain tough on crime.

"I allay the concerns of those who think that the abolition of the death penalty opens the flood gates to heinous acts," said President Arroyo. "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."

it. It is a flagship bill," said Rosales. "I know that the direction and the trend is towards more rehabilitative and restorative justice rather than pure punitive justice. And this is the trend of civilized nations, and I am happy that the Philippines has taken a step forward in that direction."

Ricardo Saludo, secretary in charge of the Cabinet, says a change in the social and legal climate likely influenced the Congress to finally pass the legislation.

"It has really emerged that what is important in fighting crime is the quality of enforcement and cooperation between the community and the police, rather than the strictness of the penalty," noted Saludo. "On top of that, this year, the Supreme Court came out with its own ruling that the death penalty is against the constitution."

The opinion of the Catholic Church may also have influenced the issue. The Philippines is a predominantly Roman Catholic nation and the Vatican's envoy to Manila has congratulated the president and lawmakers for abolishing capital punishment.

But not everyone is happy. Leaders of anti-crime groups say the government acted without consulting them. Dante Jimenez, whose brother was killed by a drug syndicate in 1990, heads Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. He says the move comes at a bad time, when terrorists, criminal syndicates and kidnappers are active and the police and justice system is weak.

"Victims of heinous crimes do not have, any more, the legal weapon to penalize those who have hurt them, who have inflicted harm to their loved ones," commented Jimenez.

Jimenez says he is mobilizing victims, urging people to arm themselves against criminals and to pursue preventative measures to fight hard-core criminals.

Violent crime is rife in the Philippines. The murder rate is high, with guns and explosives being readily available and often used to settle disputes. Kidnapping for ransom is also common.

With the new law, the Philippines becomes the 25th country in the Asia-Pacific region to end capital punishment in law or in practice, according to Amnesty International. However, the death penalty is still in place in many of Asia's biggest nations, including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and China, which executes more people than any other country.