Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has approved legislation abolishing the death penalty ahead of a planned trip to the Vatican.

The law Ms. Arroyo signed Saturday automatically commutes the sentences of about 1,200 death row convicts in the Philippines to life imprisonment.

Congress restored the death penalty in the mid-1990s for serious crimes such as murder.  Seven people have been executed since then.

Ms. Arroyo is to leave for the Vatican and Spain Sunday.  She had been scheduled to leave Saturday, but the trip was rescheduled so she could receive two days of hospital treatment for a stomach virus.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.