POSTED: 4:25 a.m. HST, Dec 8, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 5:04 a.m. HST, Dec 8, 2011
BEIJING >> China, the world's most prolific executioner, put a Filipino drug trafficker to death Thursday despite a clemency appeal from the Philippine president.
Hours before he was executed, the condemned man was allowed to meet briefly with two siblings and two cousins who traveled to south China's Guangxi province, Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay told reporters in Manila.
The man was then led to a courtroom where the sentence was read and whisked to the death chamber in Liuzhou, about two hours from the prison, where he was given a lethal injection, he said.
"The subject was very calm, but his family was crying," Binay said. "At 12:30 (p.m.) our countryman was executed."
The 35-year-old man has not been identified in either country. He was arrested in 2008 at Guilin International Airport while trying to smuggle 3.3 pounds of heroin from Malaysia. Smuggling more than 1.76 ounces of heroin or other drugs is punishable by death in China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing that the case was handled in accordance with the law and that the countries had been in contact over it.
Although China went ahead with the execution despite an appeal for clemency from President Benigno Aquino III on humanitarian grounds, Philippine government officials have said they respect China's judicial system and the execution would not hurt bilateral relations. The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006.
Overlapping territorial claims over potentially gas-rich islands in the South China Sea have strained ties between the Philippines and China.
China refuses to say how many prisoners it puts to death each year, though Amnesty International estimates it is in the thousands, far above the number executed anywhere else in the world. The San Francisco-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation estimated China executed 5,000 people in 2009.
There was no immediate Chinese media coverage of the Filipino man's execution. While death penalty cases involving corrupt officials, terror suspects or violent criminals are routinely reported, many lower-profile cases go uncovered by the tightly controlled Chinese media.
On Thursday, the official Xinhua News Agency published a lengthy report and photos of two convicted Chinese gang leaders who were executed in the southern megacity of Chongqing on Wednesday.
Xinhua said female gang boss Wang Ziqi forced at least 120 women into prostitution between 1994 and 2009 and oversaw a crime syndicate through her Bright Spot Tea House. She and one of her male associates, Gu Mingtao, were put to death, it said.
A Xinhua news photo showed the pair dressed in thickly padded pajamas, their hands cuffed, standing in a Chongqing court as officials announced that the Supreme People's Court had reviewed and upheld their death sentences.
In March, China executed three Filipino workers also convicted of smuggling heroin despite last-minute appeals and political concessions by Philippine leaders. The Philippine government said it was able to prove that a drug syndicate had taken advantage of the Filipinos.
The head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Jose Gutierrez Jr., said earlier that authorities were hunting for the recruiter of the executed drug mule, who is suspected to be a member of an African drug trafficking syndicate. He said the man convicted in China had previously engaged in drug trafficking and was paid $4,000 to $6,000 for every smuggling operation.
On the streets of the Philippine capital, reaction was mixed.
"On the one hand, if he really did it and is deserving of that punishment, then this is all right," said construction worker Edwin Cruzado. "But if a person is innocent, that is very sad."
He said that poverty is no excuse for a crime. "But their punishment in China is a bit harsh," Cruzado added.
The plight of millions of Filipino living overseas, most of them contractual workers, is an emotional issue in the country.
Foreign relations are anchored on a policy to ensure safety and welfare for workers, who often find themselves in conflict zones and countries with starkly different cultures. About 10 percent of the Philippines' 94 million people work abroad to escape widespread poverty and unemployment at home.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano, Oliver Teves and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila contributed to this report.