MANILA, Philippines?They were told they were to die only Wednesday morning.
?I was the first one to see her,? Sally Villanueva?s younger sister Mylene Ordinario told radio dzBB from Xiamen, China. ?We locked eyes and we both cried. She said, ?What are you doing here, why are you all crying, am I going to die?? She tried to console us. She said, ?It?s okay. I have accepted my fate. I will be your angel and watch over you.??
In Manila, President Benigno Aquino III shortly after noon went to the Palace chapel and prayed for the souls of Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain, who were convicted of drug trafficking in China.
The President got word that the executions had been carried out in China while at a meeting with Catholic Church officials led by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, his spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
They are the first Filipinos to be executed in China for drug trafficking.
In a statement issued shortly after the news was confirmed, Malacañang said it sympathized with the convicts? families for their loss and promised to go after drug traffickers.
Surrounded by a throng of supporters and journalists, Villanueva?s family members in Manila erupted in anguished cries as news of the execution broke.
There were similar reactions at the home of Credo in Cavite province, but Batain?s kin had requested privacy and no reporters were with them.
China normally does not announce executions. Amnesty International says China is the world?s biggest executioner, with thousands of convicts killed every year.
Batain, Credo and Villanueva were allowed to meet with their families for an hour before they were executed by lethal injection, in what turned out to be devastatingly emotional encounters.
?She was crying, she was partly incoherent. She had a lot of things to say,? Villanueva?s brother Jason Ordinario told dzBB. ?She asked us to take care of her two children and make sure they finish their studies.?
Mylene Ordinario said that her sister was blessed by a priest, and ?she said she wants to be forgiven for all her sins, but she insisted that she was a victim.?
In a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Philippine consulate in Xiamen said family members of Credo, 42, and Villanueva, 33, arrived at Xiamen No. 1 Detention House at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday.
The convicts met with their respective families for the last time at 8-9 a.m. Between 9:40 and 10:40 a.m., their final sentences were promulgated at the 2nd Criminal Tribunal of the Intermediate People?s Court.
At 10:40 a.m., Credo and Villanueva were taken to an undisclosed venue of execution.
At exactly 12 noon, Villanueva?s family, along with consulate officials, went to the Xiamen Funeral Parlor for the ?formal presentation and viewing? of her remains.
The consulate said Corpse International Travel, a private firm, would ship Villanueva?s remains to the Philippines.
At 1:50 p.m., the Intermediate People?s Court turned over Credo and Villanueva?s death certificates, passports and other personal effects to consulate officials.
At about the same time, Credo?s family claimed his ashes from the Xiamen Crematorium.
Batain?s kin arrived at Shenzhen No. 3 Detention House at 9 a.m. Her final sentence was promulgated there at 9:30 a.m.
At 10:40 a.m., Batain and her family met for the last time.
At 11:18 a.m., she was taken to an undisclosed venue for execution.
At 12:30 p.m., consulate officials were notified by the Guangdong High People?s Court that Batain had been executed.
The Philippine consulate in Guangzhou said arrangements for the shipment of Batain?s remains were being made.
In a statement, Batain?s family requested the media to stay away ?during these traumatic times.?
?We need to stay stronger as a family and focus our attention to God. This constant harassment is an invasion of our privacy... We reiterate that we do not allow any TV network or [newspaper] to release pictures of [Elizabeth] or any member of our family,? the family said.
It called on the media to ?help instead in informing the public about the modus operandi of international drug syndicates who are behind the cruel use of Filipino drug couriers.?
The three convicts, who were separately arrested in 2008 for each carrying several kilograms of heroin into China, were executed despite repeated pleas by the Philippine government for a commutation of sentence.
?Our government had taken every available opportunity to appeal to the authorities of China for clemency in their cases,? Lacierda said in a statement read by his deputy, Abigail Valte, at a briefing in Malacañang.
?The nation sympathized with the families of the condemned, sharing their sense of looming loss. We sympathize with these families now. Their deaths are a vivid lesson in the tragic toll the drug trade takes on entire families,? he said.
Lacierda told reporters that the President turned ?silent? when told about the executions during a break in a meeting with Cardinal Rosales and other Church officials including retired Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal to discuss the controversial reproductive health bill.
He said it was Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, who was among the Cabinet officials present at the meeting, who suggested that the assembly pray for the souls of the three convicts.
Cardinal Rosales offered to lead the prayer at the Yellow Room but Soliman suggested they all go to the Palace chapel instead.
?We prayed for a few minutes,? Lacierda said. ?It was a sober moment.?
Lacierda also said the executions would not affect ties between the Philippines and China.
?We have to move on, and in fact we have to be in closer cooperation especially with respect to drug trafficking,? he said.
He added that Mr. Aquino had underscored the need for government agencies supervising overseas employment ?to make sure that [such an] incident would not happen again.?
Special intentions Mass
?God bless their souls? read the brief statement issued by the DFA shortly before it observed a minute of silence at around noon in memory of the three convicts.
Assistant Foreign Secretary J. Eduardo Malaya, the DFA spokesperson, told reporters that ?in deference to the extreme difficulties and grief being experienced by the Credo, Villanueva and Batain families, the DFA is not making further statements as of the moment.?
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario attended a ?special intentions Mass? held at the DFA headquarters in Pasay City for the doomed trio.
Del Rosario said the DFA was offering the ?deepest sympathy? to the families for their loss.
From Qatar, Vice President Jejomar Binay, the President?s adviser on overseas Filipino workers? concerns, said he was ?deeply saddened? by the execution of Batain, Credo and Villanueva.
Binay urged the nation to ?pray for the repose of their souls and for the strength of their families.?
?We must all commit ourselves fully to the fight against drugs and to take all necessary action to stop this menace from destroying more lives and families,? he said. Reports from Jerry E. Esplanada, Christine O. Avendaño, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Reuters