THE Catholic Church has raised fears that the Government plans to impose martial rule in the country, triggering heated debate and testing the credibility of President Fidel Ramos. Denials by Mr Ramos have not stemmed the flow of denouncements in the media as churchmen, including the protestant sect to which Mr Ramos belongs, urged the people to oppose an administration-backed anti-terrorism bill in congress. 'The very means supposedly intended to curb terrorism will be used to terrorise citizens themselves or curtail legitimate dissent,' the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said in a pastoral letter read in churches last week. The bill, which church leaders said is a threat to democracy and could lead to dictatorship, carries provisions allowing wiretapping and arrests without warrants as well as access by government agents to bank records. It was the second pastoral letter on the bill issued this month by the church, which has spiritual control over about 80 per cent of more than 65 million Filipinos. The anti-terrorism bill is one of three government measures opposed by church leaders, which included new taxes and price rises for petrol products. Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila warned the people they should be vigilant and watch closely 'if what the Government is saying is true'. 'If the bill is passed, it would give the Government the right to immediately arrest you, put you in the stockade, and then you have to prove that you are innocent,' Cardinal Sin said. 'That is not the way a democratic country behaves. So I complain because that is already smelling of martial law,' he said. Former president Ferdinand Marcos, imposed martial law in 1972 to stay in power before being overthrown in 1986. Battle lines were being drawn between the Government and church groups after talks called by Mr Ramos at the presidential palace failed to dampen the growing dissent against the controversial measures. Mr Ramos, the first Protestant to become president in a predominantly Catholic country, tried to patch up differences with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, an umbrella organisation of protestant sects, last week. But so far only the Philippines for Jesus Movement, which claims a membership of 1.3 million, has expressed support for his policies. Eddie Villanueva, the head of the movement, said the President did not have a hand in the introduction of the anti-terrorism bill in Congress and urged church leaders 'to be sober in the battle of opinions rather than be emotionally carried away.'