Nation on bended knees
3 Filipinos set to die by injection in ChinaPhilippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The nation is on bended knees Wednesday praying for a miracle.
Prayer vigils were begun Tuesday to save three Filipino drug couriers scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Wednesday morning in China.
“We will not lose hope. Until they are executed, there is hope,” Migrante International chair Garry Martinez said of Elizabeth Batain, 38, Ramon Credo, 42, and Sally Villanueva, 33, who were separately arrested in China in 2008 and convicted of drug trafficking the next year.
The Church is also deep in prayer in hopes of a miracle for the three convicts, according to Fr. Edwin Corros, executive director of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.
“We are knocking on all doors. We are trying to storm the heavens for a change in … what will happen [today]. The best weapon we can think of so far is still prayer,” Corros said.
“We can only ask for a miracle,” he said, adding that a moment of silence and a prayer vigil were scheduled Tuesday night at Ermita Church in Manila.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in Makati City said the verdict on the three Filipinos was “final” and “in strict accordance with Chinese law.”
Chinese Embassy spokesperson Ethan Y. Sun, expressed hope that the Philippines would “understand” and said China would provide “all necessary assistance” to the convicts’ families.
Martinez conceded that “from a legal standpoint, [the convicts’] chances are small.”
“But we are praying for a miracle for them,” said Martinez, whose support group for Filipino overseas workers had been assisting the condemned trio’s families.
He recalled that in 2007, a Filipino maid in Kuwait was pardoned on the eve of her execution.
Filipinos in Hong Kong lined Chater Road early Tuesday night to pray for a commutation of the death sentence on Batain, Credo and Villanueva.
Members of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong-Migrante and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente HK Mission Council lighted candles and held an ecumenical prayer service together with members of other churches in the Chinese territory.
The three Filipinos were convicted of smuggling four to six kilograms of heroin into China. Under Chinese law, smuggling 50 grams or more of heroin or equivalent illegal drugs is punishable with death.
Villanueva and Credo will be executed in Xiamen, and Batain in Shenzhen.
At a press briefing Tuesday, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson J. Eduardo Malaya said the next of kin of Credo and Villanueva had been permitted by the Fujian Provincial Higher People’s Court to visit the convicts at 8-9 a.m. Wednesday at the Xiamen No. 1 Detention House.
Credo and Villanueva will be executed at 9:40 a.m., Malaya said.
Batain’s family “will have the opportunity to visit” her at 9:30 a.m. at the Shenzhen No. 3 Detention House, but the death sentence would have been enforced by then, he said.
Malaya also said the families would be accompanied by Philippine consular officials.
Corros said the Church had “never been remiss in providing for the spiritual needs of its flock,” including the doomed convicts.
“Rest assured that the Church is doing something. The best that we can do now is to keep on praying,” he said. “We have been offering Masses for the three. Their families are also being looked after.”
Corros said the Church was also working to save the lives of other Filipinos scheduled for execution in China.
“Hopefully, we will be able to surpass this… Even now, we are already in contact with some people who, we believe, can be of help to us in terms of securing the lives of those others who are on death row in China,” he said, adding:
“It boils down to our problem of poverty. They always hope to escape from this to the extent that they are being exploited by syndicates, as what had happened to [Batain, Credo and Villanueva].”
The Philippine government had argued that the three, who are among hundreds of Filipinos jailed in China for drug offenses, were from poor families and were duped by international crime syndicates into becoming drug couriers.
Their impending executions have trained the spotlight on the plight of more than nine million Filipino workers abroad, many of them toiling in harsh conditions as laborers and maids.
Nothing left to do
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario appeared resigned to the executions, saying “there really isn’t much left” that the Philippine government could do.
“We’ve tried everything we can already. At some point, we have to accept the fact that the [convicts’ death] sentence is a finality,” Del Rosario told reporters in an ambush interview at the DFA headquarters in Pasay City.
He noted that President Benigno Aquino III had thrice written Chinese President Hu Jintao and that other government officials—particularly Vice President Jejomar Binay and Ambassador Francisco Benedicto—had been “back-channeling,” all aimed at seeking clemency for the convicts.
Wednesday morning, the DFA will hold what Malaya called a “special intentions Mass” for the three convicts.
“We obviously sympathize with [the convicts’ families],” Del Rosario said.
Real principals at large
Binay, who managed to secure a temporary reprieve for the convicts last month, has appealed anew to the Chinese government to spare their lives, saying “they could help find the masterminds of drug smuggling syndicates.”
In a March 28 letter to President Hu, Binay cited Villanueva’s sworn statement which, he said, could serve as evidence for further investigation into the illegal drugs trade in the region.
“In light of that testimony, which we believe is very material to the prosecution of [alleged recruiter] Mapet Cortez, and our efforts to break the back of the illegal drugs traffic from the Philippines, I appeal to the Chinese government to help us keep Villanueva and the two others alive to enable us to establish beyond any reasonable doubt whether at least one or two, or all three of them, are mere unwitting couriers while the real principals are still at large in the Philippines,” Binay wrote.
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang remained “hopeful.”
“But we are still hoping within the realization that we are limited by what we can do. So we will leave it up to the Chinese authorities but, again, while the execution has not been carried out, we will still hope,” Lacierda said.
In a statement, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: “The Philippines does not ask the Chinese government to bend its laws on the issue, but only makes an appeal for the sake of friendship and humanitarian reasons.”
It called on China to “consider further dialogue with the Philippine government to find possibilities to commute the Filipinos’ death sentence to life imprisonment.”
Lacierda said the current “thrust” between China and the Philippines was “to have greater coordination [on] drug trafficking.”
“Looking forward, we need to make sure that there will be no [more] similar incidents,” he said. Reports from Jerry E. Esplanada, Philip C. Tubeza, Norman Bordadora and Agence France-Presse