MANILA, Philippines—The Filipino woman caught smuggling drugs into China may be executed Tuesday or Wednesday, a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official said on Monday, even as the government appealed for prayers while awaiting China’s response to the Philippines’ plea that her life be spared.
DFA spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said a note verbale that the Chinese government had sent to the Philippine mission in Shanghai indicated that the execution could be carried out within seven days after receipt of the notice.
China’s Supreme People’s Court handed down on June 26 its decision to uphold a lower court’s death sentence on the woman for drug trafficking. Citing a report from Philippine Consul General in Shanghai Charles Jose, Hernandez said the Philippine government received the note verbale around June 27.
Hernandez said the woman’s relatives, accompanied by Philippine officials, had been allowed to see the 35-year-old for the last time at Zhejiang Detention Center in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China on Monday morning.
“The family visited our kababayan (compatriot) at 10 [a.m. in the] morning… and was able to talk to [her] for 30 minutes… This will be the only time that the family would be allowed to talk to [her] in that detention center,” Hernandez said in a press briefing on Monday.
“They have not been informed of the date of execution yet,” he added.
The family had flown to China on Sunday, according to the office of Vice President Jejomar Binay, the presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers’ concerns.
Separate male prison
The family was also scheduled to visit the woman’s cousin, who is similarly detained for drug trafficking in a separate male prison in Zhejiang.
The pair were arrested at the international airport in Hangzhou in January 2011 for each carrying more than 6 kilos of heroin. They had flown in as tourists but were known to have been recruited by a Nigerian man to smuggle drugs from Dubai through Hong Kong, and then into China.
Both were sentenced to death, but the male cousin was given a two-year reprieve within which to reform and qualify for the commutation of his sentence to life.
18 smuggling incidents
The DFA had earlier explained that the woman remained on death row, as she was known to have led the operation, and that evidence tagged her in 18 other smuggling incidents between 2008 and 2011. Chinese authorities said that she had earned between $3,000 and $4,000 for each successful trip.
Hernandez said the government was still waiting for China’s response to President Aquino’s letter of appeal sent last week seeking commutation of the woman’s death sentence to life.
China had stopped Binay’s planned trip to Beijing on Sunday to personally appeal for the woman’s life. The Vice President quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry as saying that “now would not be a convenient time” to receive Binay.
Call for prayers
Unable to fly to China, Binay instead called on the public to pray for the woman.
“Let us continue praying that our appeal for a stay in our compatriot’s execution would be considered. Our President is appealing that her penalty be commuted to life imprisonment,” Binay said in a statement.
Asked what the DFA made of China’s decision not to receive Binay, Hernandez said: “I don’t want to speculate as to what kind of message they are sending to us by that decision, but it has been clear that China is very strict with the implementation of their laws regarding drug trafficking. We have also said that we respect their laws and the decisions of their courts.”
The Philippines and China are locked in a tense dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Just over the weekend, China had warned of a “counterstrike” against the Philippines and accused the latter of “internationalizing” the issue. This prompted the DFA to call out China for “provocative” threats and to seek its compliance with international law that advocates a peaceful resolution of disputes among countries.