China to proceed with execution of 3 Pinoys

- Pia Lee-Brago -

MANILA, Philippines –  China will proceed with the execution of three Filipino drug convicts after almost a month of delay.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Jianchao said in a news conference that a commutation of the death sentences “has been ruled out,” adding that the verdict of China’s Supreme People’s Court was final and would be enforced “sooner or later.”

He said the final verdict had nothing to do with a recent territorial spat with the Philippines.

In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we have to respect the decision of the Chinese authorities on that matter.”

President Aquino last month sent Vice President Jejomar Binay to make a last-minute plea to Beijing and won an indefinite stay of execution of Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, 32; Ramon Credo, 42; and Elizabeth Batain, 38.

Ordinario-Villanueva claimed she was not aware there were illegal drugs inside the bag her agency asked her to carry to China in 2008. She was convicted on Dec. 24 for smuggling 4,110 grams of heroin into Xiamen.

Credo was convicted four days later for smuggling roughly the same amount of heroin also into Xiamen.

China’s court found Batain guilty of smuggling 6,800 grams of heroin on May 24, 2008, in Shenzhen.

China’s granting of reprieve to the three last Feb.18 raised hopes in the Philippines that the three, who have denied they were drug traffickers, could be saved from lethal injection.

The Philippines has abolished the death penalty and the plight of Filipinos on death row abroad is an emotional and political issue.

Aquino has already written to Chinese President Hu Jintao appealing for clemency. He told reporters that the issue would test China’s promise of building closer bilateral ties.

China, however, said the matter involved criminal cases that were independent from the Asian countries’ robust bilateral relations.

“I don’t want our wonderful relations to be kidnapped by these drug criminals,” Liu said, adding that the three Filipinos “at the moment are still alive.”

“I share your values and I know that the Filipino people put a lot of stress on human lives, so do the Chinese people but at the same time, I think more concern should be shown to the people who have been victimized by these drug traffickers,” Liu said.

“If you see mothers who have lost their sons, families break up, wife and husband separate because of drug use, girls become prostitute for money to take drugs, boys resort to robbery for money to use drugs, you’ll see such a necessity to deter and curb drug trafficking and criminal activities in China,” he added.

“So I hope the Chinese laws would be respected by our Filipino friends. These drug traffickers, these criminals are not only victimizing the Chinese people. They’re also victimizing the Filipino people, so this is a crime that must be punished in accordance with the law,” he said.

He said there is no schedule yet for the execution of the three but the Philippine embassy in Beijing and the Consulate General would be informed of any development.

“There’s a legal required period or time and the Philippine side is going to be informed about the date.”

Liu stressed “the purpose is not to take the lives of these people.”

“It’s to deter and curb such crime so people will know such crimes carry very harsh punishment and that’s the way to deter. When we deter such criminal act and behavior the people of both countries will enjoy better lives,” he added.

Asked if China’s decision has been influenced by a recent territorial row with the Philippines in the South China Sea, Liu replied, “No, not at all.”

The Philippines protested after two Chinese patrol boats harassed on March 2 a research vessel commissioned by the Department of Energy in the Reed Bank near the disputed Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, the Philippines and four other countries.

The Philippine Navy deployed two warplanes but the Chinese boats had left by the time the aircraft reached the area. Beijing ignored Manila’s protest.

The Philippines said the Reed Bank was well within its regular territory but Liu reiterated yesterday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the area and the nearby Spratlys, long coveted for its possible oil and gas deposits. Washington has called for restraint.

Palace resigned to OFWs fate

Malacañang said it is resigned to the fate of the three Filipino workers on death row in China.

“I would imagine that we would still try to (secure commutation for the three), but we have to respect the decision of the Chinese authorities on that matter,” Lacierda said in a briefing.

“Again, it was really unprecedented that they (Chinese government) granted us a stay (of execution) and this is the first time that they did it for an ally,” he said.

“We were also informed of their laws,” Aquino told newsmen in a chance interview.

Lacierda admitted that Chinese laws are harsh on drug traffickers.

“Let me be clear about it. It was very, very clear that it was only a postponement. And again, while we were hoping for a commutation (of sentence), it was very, very clear,” he stressed.

“It was communicated to us by our friends from the Chinese embassy that this was going to be a postponement of the execution. Again, this is done within the scope of Chinese law,” Lacierda pointed out.

“It was made clear to us after the decision of the Chinese government to postpone the execution. I had the opportunity to meet with Chinese officials and it was made clear to us that it’s going to be a postponement of the execution,” he said.

Last month, President Aquino acknowledged it was hard to dissuade the Chinese government from carrying out the death sentence because drugs were involved.

“Drugs is a worldwide problem and we have to respect their (China’s) sovereignty,” he said.

“In China, they are very strict with regards to drugs,” Aquino said.

Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said every effort had been made to to save the three Filipinos from execution.

“They (Chinese) have their rule of law to follow. I don’t know of other initiatives we can take but we sent two envoys and there’s back-channeling,” Del Rosario said in a press conference.

Predicaments faced by Filipino workers overseas – including employer abuse, lack of legal protection and a myriad of other problems – is a sensitive issue in the Philippines, which has some 10 percent of 94 million people toiling abroad to escape poverty and unemployment at home.

Amid intense local media coverage of the three Filipinos’ impending execution last month, militant groups like Migrante demanded the firing of then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and other officials for their alleged failure to protect Filipinos languishing on death row abroad.

In many cases, the government has succeeded in saving the lives of Filipino workers who had been sentenced to death on drug and murder charges in Asia and the Middle East. – Pia Lee Brago, Delon Porcalla, AP

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