BEIJING — The Philippine vice president said Friday that China will postpone the executions of three Filipino drug convicts, after he traveled to Beijing to make a last-ditch appeal for clemency.
Vice President Jejomar Binay carried a letter from President Benigno Aquino III to China’s leader seeking clemency. Binay separately appealed to the president of China’s supreme court for a stay in the cases that have drawn glaring media coverage in the Philippines.
The three had been scheduled for execution Monday and Tuesday, and would have been the first Filipinos to be put to death in China for drug trafficking.
The plight of Filipinos overseas is a sensitive issue in the Philippines, which has some 10 percent of its population working abroad. Already, a migrant workers’ group is demanding the sacking of the Philippine foreign secretary and other diplomats for their alleged failure to protect the welfare of the Filipinos on death row.
Reading out a joint statement to reporters after the meetings, Binay said the Chinese side informed him of "the decision of the Supreme People’s Court to postpone the execution within the scope of Chinese law."
He would not elaborate, but sometimes death penalties in China are set aside for two years and if the convict shows good behavior, then the sentence is commuted to life in prison.
Aquino, in a statement released Friday, said the "entire Filipino nation is united" in appealing to China’s top leaders for leniency for the three.
Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Aquino’s letter to President Hu Jintao outlined that appeal.
Filipino officials say the two women and one man — including a 32-year-old mother of two and a 42-year-old father of five — were paid to take packages to China that they thought were legal cargo such as office supplies but which actually contained hidden heroin. China has said the three were duly convicted under a rigorous judicial process.
Going ahead with the executions would have likely set back the Philippines’ efforts to build closer relations with China, a regional and economic power. Aquino said the issue will test China’s promise of closer bilateral ties.
Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, 32, and Ramon Credo, 42, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday in Xiamen while Elizabeth Batain, 38, was set to be executed Tuesday in Shenzhen.
Relatives of the three Filipinos were scheduled to depart over the weekend for China, officials said.
Villanueva’s younger sister, Maylene Ordinario, said she was pleased to hear from a reporter that the execution had been postponed. "That’s good news that they have listened to our appeal," she said.
"I hope they can lower her sentence to life imprisonment and she can be given a chance to explain her side and have her case reviewed," Ordinario said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu had said the matter was an independent criminal case and China hoped that the Philippines would keep in mind "the overall interest of bilateral relations."
The three were arrested separately in 2008 carrying packages each containing more than four and six kilograms (more than eight and 13 pounds) of heroin. They were convicted and sentenced in 2009.
Since 2006, more than 200 Filipinos have faced drug cases in China.
Binay’s trip comes after Manila has made several moves in recent months to win a commutation of the sentences.
Aquino did not send a representative to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December honoring a jailed Chinese dissident, and two weeks ago, Manila deported to Beijing 14 Taiwanese facing fraud charges in China despite protests from Taipei.
Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano in Manila contributed to this report.