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China Puts Off Execution of 3 Philippine Nationals

Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay, center, reads out a joint statement to the journalists at a hotel in Beijing, China Friday, Feb. 18, 2011.

Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay, center, reads out a joint statement to the journalists at a hotel in Beijing, China Friday, Feb. 18, 2011.

The vice president of the Philippines is breathing a sigh of relief after China said it would postpone the executions of three Filipinos convicted of drug trafficking there. But during his meeting with high ranking officials in China, the Philippines’ request for the sentences to be commuted to life in prison was not addressed.

Vice President Jejomar Binay says the Philippines was grateful for the chance to buy more time for three of its citizens who were each convicted separately in 2008 of possessing thousands of grams of heroin. Two of the convicts, a man and a woman were to be executed by lethal injection Monday. And the third, a woman would have been put to death Tuesday, also by lethal injection.

Binay read from a prepared statement moments after his plane from China landed in Manila’s international airport.

“The Philippine side stated that it fully respects China’s law and the verdict of the Supreme People’s Court of China, and expresses its sincere appreciation to China for the decision to postpone the executions within the scope of Chinese law," he said.

Binay says the high ranking officials of China’s Supreme People’s Court did not specify what exactly the “scope” of their law entails. It was not clear whether the court would still go ahead with the executions at a later date or they would commute the sentences to life imprisonment- which the Philippines had been asking for.

Officials say since last August, President Benigno Aquino has sent letters to China’s President Hu Jintao requesting that all death sentences against Filipinos there to be commuted to life imprisonment.

The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs says 72 cases were either granted two-year reprieves for good behavior or commutations to life.

Binay repeatedly said he did not want to speculate on what the Chinese court will ultimately decide. Instead he remained hopeful as he spoke to reporters. “The fact that there is a stay of execution, OK. A process, which as we are not aware of it, we do not know it. That process, it will lead to penalty," he said.

He says the fact that the executions were postponed was a good thing. And that the court will have to go through a process and maybe this will lead to a lesser penalty.

China imposes the death penalty for scores of crimes, including possession of 50 grams or more of illegal drugs. The Philippines on the other hand, does not have a death penalty. But it measures out a life-sentence for possession of 10 grams or more of illegal drugs.

According to Amnesty International, China leads the world in executions. The human rights advocate says it executed thousands of convicts in 2009.