MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Filipino man convicted on drug trafficking charges was executed in China on Thursday despite an appeal for clemency from President Benigno Aquino III on humanitarian grounds, Philippine officials said.
Hours before he was put to death, the 35-year-old man, who was not identified, was allowed to meet briefly with his two siblings and two cousins who traveled to southern Guangxi province, Vice President Jejomar Binay told reporters.
The man was then led to a courtroom where the sentence was read and whisked away to the death chamber, located in Liuzhou, about two hours away from the prison, where he was given a lethal injection, he said.
“The subject was very calm, but his family was crying,” Binay said. “At 12:30 (p.m.) our countryman was executed.”
The man was arrested in 2008 at Guilin International Airport while trying to smuggle 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) of heroin from Malaysia. Smuggling more than 1.76 ounces (50 grams) of heroin or other drugs is punishable by death in China.
Although China went ahead with the execution despite Aquino’s appeal for clemency, government officials have said they respect China’s judicial system and that the execution would not hurt bilateral relations.
Overlapping territorial claims over potentially gas-rich islands in the South China Sea have strained ties between the Philippines and China.
China is the world’s biggest executioner, according to Amnesty International. The Philippines and Cambodia are Southeast Asia’s only nations to have abolished the death penalty.
In March, China executed three Filipino workers also convicted of smuggling heroin despite last-minute appeals and political concessions by Philippine leaders. The Philippine government said it was able to prove that a drug syndicate had taken advantage of the Filipinos.
The head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Jose Gutierrez Jr., said earlier that authorities were hunting for the recruiter of the executed drug mule, who is suspected to be a member of an African drug trafficking syndicate. He said the man convicted in China had previously engaged in drug trafficking and was paid $4,000 to $6,000 for every smuggling operation.
On the streets, reaction was mixed.
“On the one hand, if he really did it and is deserving of that punishment, then this is all right,” said construction worker Edwin Cruzado. “But if a person is innocent, that is very sad.”
He said that poverty is no excuse for a crime. “But their punishment in China is a bit harsh,” Cruzado added.
The plight of millions of Filipino living overseas, most of them contractual workers, is an emotional issue in the country.
Foreign relations are anchored on a policy to ensure safety and welfare for workers, who often find themselves in conflict zones and countries with starkly different cultures. About 10 percent of the country’s 94 million people work abroad to escape widespread poverty and unemployment at home.