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Watching China Execute My Countryman

By Darwin Wally T. Wee, a freelance journalist from the Philippines on exchange with the Economic Observer


UPDATE: Edgardo Mendoza received his lethal injection on Thursday.

Filipinos are storming heaven with prayers that the Chinese government commute the death sentence of a convicted Filipino, who is expected to be executed on Thursday in the southeastern region of Guangxi.

Even the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman urged Filipinos to pray for a “miracle” during a press conference on Wednesday.

“We are still hoping; we are still praying. The whole government, the whole nation is one with the family in praying that a miracle will happen; that a change of mind would take place so the death sentence will be commuted to life sentence. That is our prayer and hope. And I hope the whole Filipino nation would join us in the prayer at this time of the need of our kababayan [compatriot],” he said.

The Philippine government did not provide the identity of the convicted Filipino inmate, but Philippine media identified him as Edgardo Mendoza, a 35-year old, who was convicted for smuggling one and a half kilos of heroin in Guangxi. He was apprehended on 13 September 2008 at Guilin International Airport, coming off a flight from Malaysia, with authorities finding the heroin in his possession.

But those prayers are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Early this year, the Chinese government executed, through lethal injections, at least three Filipinos who were also convicted of drug smuggling in two separate provinces in China in recent years.

Despite the calls for the commutation, and even an appeal letter from Philippine President Benigno Aquino to Chinese President Hu Jintao, the executions went ahead.

Major TV networks in the Philippines also had live coverage as the families of the inmates – through long distance phone calls – gave a blow-by-blow account of the executions as they took place.

For a devout Christian nation that abolished death penalty several years back, the experience was harrowing.

Perhaps the same kind of scenario will likely to take place on Thursday.

Despite several pleas from the Philippine government, the Chinese government stood firm on the decision.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said that the capital punishment verdict is final. He asked the Philippine government to respect the rule of law in China, where drug smuggling is a serious offence.

“Drug-related crimes are universally recognized felonies. China is a country under the rule of law. The Chinese judicial authority treats foreign drug criminals equally, handles their cases in accordance with law, fully guarantees their litigation rights and access to due treatment and carries out relevant obligations prescribed in international conventions,” he said.

Human rights groups have also voiced their opposition to the death penalty.

In a statement sent to the Economic Observer, the Philippines office of Amnesty International (AI) called on the Chinese government to abolish the use of the death penalty, describing it as “cruel and inhumane” and saying it is “not a deterrent to crime and must be abolished.”

“We call on the authorities in China to stop the execution and remove non-lethal offenses as crimes that merit the death sentence,” Amnesty's Philippines director Aurora Parong, said.

AI said that China has 55 offences that carry the death penalty and the exact number of executions remains secret. The United Nations General Assembly has endorsed resolutions which state that the scope of application of the death penalty should not go beyond intentional crimes with lethal consequences.

It said Asian countries where the death penalty is legal and applied include Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam and North Korea.  Some countries like Brunei, Laos, Myanmar and South Korea don’t apply the penalty and the Philippines has formally abolished it.

Recently, several photographs of inmates who were about to executed begun circulating on Chinese microblogs.

The slideshow gives readers a glimpse of the inmates several hours before they were executed.  There was no blood or torture, but plenty of vivid scenes. Inmates were photographed painting their nails, arranging their clothes, chatting with other inmates, and eating their last meal composed of fast food from McDonalds.  Again, it was harrowing - the photos are more horrific than horror films. 

Reports said that China has reduced the numbers of executions. But is still believed to have the highest recorded rate of executions in world. Amnesty International doesn’t provide a precise figure of executions in China as Beijing keeps such figures secret, but says "only a fraction of death sentences and executions carried out in China are publicly reported."

The Filipino Department of Justice said there are 164 of its citizens serving prison terms in Mainland China, most of them for drugs trafficking as of August, 119 are women – most of them married with children, and 45 are men.

“Most of them are in prisons in China’s southern provinces,” it said, “on the other hand, there are 109 Chinese nationals serving sentences in Philippine prisons.”

It is not clear, however, how many Filipinos are serving life sentences and how many are on death row.


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