MANILA, Philippines—From the main thoroughfare in Barangay (village) Sipac-Almacen in Navotas City, Nemesio L. Angeles Street is split by dark alleys that show no signs out of the ordinary.
People went about their usual ways along the street, which ends at a seawall overlooking Manila Bay. Women sold snacks from balconies, men were repairing tricycles, while teenagers played basketball at a covered court nearby.
Music blared out from a garage, with songs usually heard on Sundays on the radio, including John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” The Beatles’ “Let it Be,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” The last one seemed to have set the tone, as the house of the 35-year-old Filipino woman on China’s death row was eerily quiet.
The woman was executed Wednesday morning, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced.
No one answered the door. Neighbors, who were killing time on the main street, clammed up when asked about the issue.
Where is her house? “We don’t know,” a woman replied. A man was asked if he was a neighbor and if he knew the Filipino woman. “I’m from the other street,” he said.
Eventually, after some prodding, a few talked but asked not to be indentified—like the doomed woman.
“They’re [her family] probably there, but they just don’t answer. They haven’t really opened up about the issue. Everyone here is ashamed to talk of it,” said a thickset man in a white shirt and brown shorts.
“Not really ashamed, but maybe we’re just shy to talk about it. We just don’t want to anger them when we speak. They really wanted to keep this private,” he continued.
He recalled that earlier on Wednesday, television crews interviewed a neighbor about the woman. “Her family got angry and said, ‘Why give interviews about it? Just please leave it at that.’”
The family has kept mostly to themselves in all the decades they have been living there.
“They’ve lived here for as long as we can remember. The [woman] grew up in that house and has been returning here ever since,” another man said. He noted that the woman had been to China 18 times and “already knows their (Chinese) language.”
“Call it secretive, but they did not really brag about the fact that she was there. But we just knew because they would give us chocolates as homecoming gifts,” he added.
He said the neighborhood was just as shocked to find out that the woman was arrested in China sometime in 2011. “They were really crying hard then when the news broke. And we were surprised that she was arrested, too.”
The issue died down immediately in the community, but when the DFA had announced that she was set to be executed this week, the unwanted attention was back on them.
“They went to great lengths to really keep the issue private,” a woman said. “The victim’s mother was somehow contacted by the media, but she put them off by giving the wrong address. Still, apparently, you found us, you found them.”
Even as the DFA confirmed the execution Wednesday morning, the house remained quiet. Cameramen and reporters kept on returning and calling out for someone to interview, but there was no reply. The neighbors refused interviews on-cam.
Request for privacy
“It is with profound sadness that we confirm that our fellow Filipino was executed in China this morning,” said DFA spokesma Raul Hernandez. He did not release further details in
deference to the family’s request for privacy.
“We reassured her (woman’s mother) that the DFA will not divulge the identity of her daughter. But we cannot withhold from the public the fact of the execution. And we believe that she understood,” Hernandez said.
Malacañang extended “sympathies and condolences” to the family.
Two days before, the woman was allowed to be with her mother and son for 30 minutes at Zhejiang Detention Center in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China. She had one other child.
She was arrested at the international airport in Hangzhou in January 2011 for carrying more than 6 kilos of heroin. A male cousin was also caught carrying roughly the same quantity of the illegal drug.
The local court imposed the death penalty on both on March 16, but her cousin was given a two-year reprieve to reform and qualify for the commutation of sentence to life imprisonment.
Earlier, the DFA said evidence presented during the trial showed that the woman had led the drug-trafficking operation, bringing drugs into China 18 times from 2008 to the time of her arrest. Recruited by a Nigerian drug trafficker in 2007, the woman was known to have earned between $3,000 and $4,000 for each trip, it said.
The Philippine government provided the woman counsel throughout her trial and appeal, but that the “preponderance of evidence was so large,” the foreign office said.
An appellate court affirmed the lower court decision on Dec. 3, 2012. Subsequently, China’s Supreme People’s Court upheld the ruling on June 26 with finality.
Hernandez said the woman met her fate Wednesday morning as China enforced the death penalty despite President Aquino’s appeal for a stay in the execution, citing humanitarian reasons.
Vice President Jejomar Binay had wanted to personally appeal to the Chinese government to spare the woman’s life, but the Chinese foreign ministry reportedly said it was “not a convenient time” to accommodate the official in Beijing.
The DFA said there were 213 drug-related cases involving Filipinos in China, of which 28 were death convictions but with reprieve of two years. Sixty-seven cases led to life sentences, 107 were commuted to light prison terms, while 10 are still pending in court.
Stay away from drug trade
Hernandez called on Filipinos to stay away from the international drug trade, which earlier cost the lives of Filipinos Ramon Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva and Elizabeth Batain. The three were executed in China in 2011 for drug trafficking despite appeals of the Philippine government.
“Drug trafficking is a criminal act in the Philippines and all over the world. The life of every Filipino is valuable and we pray that this is the last time that a tragedy like this befalls any of our countrymen,” Hernandez said.
The official earlier said the death penalty would likely be carried out through lethal injection but he did not confirm this in a press briefing late afternoon on Wednesday.
The President’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, appealed to the media “to allow the family their privacy at this difficult time.”
“We hope that this will serve as a continuing lesson to our citizens not to allow themselves to be victimized and to fall prey to these syndicates,” Valte said.
Hernandez said the repatriation of the woman’s remains was being arranged.
Her neighbors on Angeles Street were waiting for the body to be brought home, but it was the cremated remains that arrived Wednesday night.
“If they want to be private, then we will just let them be,” a woman resident said.-With a report from Michael Lim Ubac