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A dead end

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Another Filipino is scheduled for execution in China and like others before him, his chances of cheating death fall within the narrow range of nil to none.

The still-to-be publicly named ‘drug mule’ was apprehended in southern China’s Guilin International Airport on 13 September 2008. He was in possession of nearly a kilo and a half of heroin. Within a little more than three years since his apprehension, he was charged with drug trafficking under the “Criminal Laws of the People’s Republic of China” and tried under its “Criminal Procedure Law.”

Where the criminal justice system grinds more speedily and rather harshly, the process had the 35 year-old Filipino first tried and sentenced to death by an Intermediate People’s Court. Following a system of “double appeals,” the verdict was upheld twice by higher courts—first, by the High People’s Court (HPC) of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, later affirmed by the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing. Under the same laws, execution automatically follows within a week after affirmation by the Supreme Court. He has since been scheduled for execution on 08 December of this year, less than a week from today.

He is one of six Filipino capital punishment convicts. Three —Ramon Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva and Elizabeth Batain—were executed in March last year. Two others had their convictions without reprieve lowered to death penalty with two-year reprieve. By all indications and in such short a time, it is unlikely that he will be as fortunate.

Last week, President Benigno Aquino III sent a letter of appeal to Chinese President Hu Jintao requesting commutation of the sentence from death to life imprisonment. So far, all Beijing had to say was that it appreciated the Philippines’ respect of Chinese laws.
*Their country, their rules

In truth, that is just about as much as the Philippines can afford to do—respect China’s laws. Everything concerned, this tiny Asian archipelago could neither approximate nor replicate the Western world’s moral outrage over and fierce condemnation of China’s execution of a British national in December 2009.

Pakistani-born British national Akmal Shaikh was meted the punishment of death for smuggling four kilograms of heroin into China. The novelty with his defense was that Shaikh supposedly suffered a “mental condition,” a line of defense supported by the British government though given no weight by the Chinese judiciary.

According to news reports from the United Kingdom, Shaikh’s condition was ignored during his first 30-minute trial. At a second trial, he supposedly delivered an erratic 50-minute speech which had solicited laughter from the Chinese magistrates. Still, they refused appeal by the British consulate for a mental examination.

British members of Parliament called Shaikh’s execution as “barbaric.” China’s nationalist publication Global Times countered that the growing drug problem was a threat to the country’s social stability. “It brings back the black memory of the opium war started by the British more than a century ago that dragged our country through a lengthy nightmarish period,” the paper wrote.

*Death for the “extremely vile”

In 2007, China initiated a review of every capital case before its Supreme People’s Court. The then Court President, Xiao Yang, vowed that capital punishment would be rendered only to “extremely vile criminals.”

In another bid to “humanize” its justice system, it also announced in 2010 that the Chinese National People’s Congress will consider proposals to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death under its laws.

So much, however, is China’s seeming aversion towards drug-related offenses that it remains a capital offense perpetrated only by “extremely vile criminals.”

The only consolation for current death convicts is that since 2009, the People’s Supreme Court has started to abandon execution by bullet to the back of the head in favor of lethal injection. Filipinos Credo, Villanueva, and Batain, were “beneficiaries” of this more “humane” administration of death.

In 1997, China became only the second country after the United States to administer lethal injections. Its 1996 criminal laws still provide that death penalty could be executed through either “shooting or injection” but trends towards providing criminals with “decent deaths” now see the State veering towards lethal injection.

But still so different is Chinese legal culture from that of the Philippines that while the latter’s notion of “justice on wheels” consists of on-the-spot adjudication, mediation, and conciliation aboard buses, China’s is construed to mean execution aboard buses turned makeshift execution chambers. During the late 90s, these buses were distributed to various Chinese provinces. Aboard them, executions were done efficiently and expeditiously by lethal injection.

*“Pragmatic” executions

Injection as the preferred method of execution has also garnered support in the succeeding decades for reasons more “pragmatic” than “moral.”

The Beijing News reported in 2008 that according to China’s foremost expert on death penalty laws, Liu Renwen, executions by lethal injection is more “cost efficient” than firing squad—the latter costing 700 yuan or about US$ 100, while the former, less than half that at only 300 yuan.

Still, another consideration is the risk of “cleaning up” after execution by firing squad. According to Kunming Intermediate People’s Court Forensic Division director Wang Jun, about 20 percent of heroin addicts condemned in Yunnan province share needles and are infected with HIV.

Human rights organization Dui Hua Foundation theorizes that lethal injection better preserves internal organs for donation. In 2009, the China Daily reported that 65 percent of organ transplants originating from China were sourced through executed convicts—“voluntary donors,” the paper wrote.

The same human rights group also confirmed the perception that China executes more prisoners annually than all other countries combined. According to Dui Hua, China executed anywhere from 5000 to 6000 prisoner in 2007 compared to the United State’s 42 in the same year—per capita, 30 times the number of executions in the US.

Amnesty International’s 2011 report tallied a minimum of 527 executions worldwide in 2010. Still, “this figure does not include the thousands of executions that were believed to be carried out in China last year,” said the report.

China’s seeming lack of transparency may be diametrically opposed to the Philippines’ westernized notion of laws and governance, but it is not exactly one of its kind in the world, especially as far as Asia is concerned.

“In Belarus, China and Mongolia the death penalty continued to be classified as a ‘state secret’. Little information was available for Malaysia, North Korea and Singapore. In Viet Nam, publishing figures on the use of the death penalty is prohibited by law. In several countries—including Belarus, Botswana, Egypt and Japan—death row inmates are not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor are their families or lawyers. In Belarus, Botswana and Viet Nam the bodies of the executed prisoners are not returned to their families for burial,” wrote the Amnesty International.

*The lesson not learned

Differences notwithstanding, the Philippines is not new to having its citizens tried overseas for various offenses. According to news reports, there are 7,000 Filipinos detained abroad for various “offenses.” Six hundred thirty for acting as “drug mules” for international syndicates; more than 200 of them are incarcerated in China, 79 of them on death row; with more than 60 percent of these supposed drug mules being women; many of them, educated professionals.

Prior to China, there was Singapore and Flor Contemplacion hanged for murder at the Changi prison in 1995.

On the same year and in response to the incident, then President Fidel Ramos formed the Presidential Fact-Finding and Policy Advisory Commission for the Protection of Overseas Filipinos, commonly known as the Gancayco commission after its chairman, retired Justice Emilio Gancayco.

In its final report, the Gancayco commission recommended: (1) the gradual phase out of migrant workers in favor of better employment opportunities within the country; and (2) a shift, away from “vulnerable” sectors such as domestic work “in the meanwhile that the labor absorptive capacity of the local economy is limited.”

The Magna Carta for Overseas Workers or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 likewise declares that “the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development” and that “the State, therefore shall continuously create local employment opportunities and promote the equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development.”

Practice however remains contradictory to theory. The Asian Development Bank as cited by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2005 said that “labor export may even have been made part of the government’s economic development strategy given the value of remittances as a buffer to a shaky economy.”

Anywhere from nearly 9 million to 11 million Filipinos or more than 10 percent of the population work overseas. In 2010, when an additional 1.4 million Filipinos trooped overseas for employment opportunities, the overseas Filipino sector infused a record $21.3 billion in remittances to the Philippine economy – the fourth largest remittance inflow to any country according to the World Bank.

*A marginalized sector

Despite its contribution, however, the overseas Filipino remains a neglected and marginalized sector of Philippine society.

The Commission on Audit in its 2010 report, divulged that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has not been remitting collections from migrant workers in the amount of P21.5 million. These collections were supposed to be allocated for emergency concerns of migrant workers and their families.

In 2011, the Palace slashed by almost half – from P50 to P27 million – the legal assistance fund earmarked for migrant workers.

Little progress has also been achieved in parlaying overseas remittances into domestic employment opportunities. Government statistics currently place unemployment at higher than 7 percent and underemployment to nearly 19 percent. This translates to nearly three million unemployed and almost 7 million underemployed Filipinos.

About 23 million Filipinos, a third of the country’s population, still subsist on lower than $2 or a less than P90 per day. Even professionals are not exempt from a similar fate. Doctors working in government hospitals in the Philippines earn an average of P25,000 or less than $450 monthly. Nurses overseas earn as much 20 times that at $8000 dollars a month.

In 2005, about 6000 Filipino doctors abandoned their profession to study nursing courses and pursue employment opportunities outside of the country. Thousands of them still leave the country annually.

Those without degrees as doctors obviously earn considerably less while in the Philippines. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, they are the ones targeted by international drug syndicates for recruitment as drug mules.

The promise of earning anywhere from $1000 to $2000 emboldens them to take incredible risks. Some of them, in a desperate attempt to escape poverty in the Philippines find themselves in places where there is no escaping death.

By Karl Allan Barlaan
and Christian Cardiente




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