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VP Binay to plead for convicts’ lives in China

MANILA, February 17, 2011 (AFP) – The Philippines on Thursday said China had agreed to receive the country’s vice president in a last ditch mission to save three Filipinos set to be executed next week for drugs smuggling.

Vice President Jejomar Binay is scheduled to depart Friday morning and meet the president of China’s Supreme People’s Court to appeal for clemency for the three, the Foreign Affairs Department said.

He is also expected to meet with Beijing’s executive vice foreign minister on Saturday, the department said but did not give the name of the Chinese official.

“In receiving Vice President Binay, the Chinese government took into serious consideration the sentiments of President Benigno S. Aquino III and the Filipino people,” Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said in a statement.

The announcement came hours after Binay himself announced that his request to visit Beijing had been turned down.

“Join us in our prayers. They always say that miracles can happen,” Binay had told reporters.”

Aquino said Wednesday he had been trying in vain to speak to China’s President Hu Jintao on the matter. But the Chinese embassy said the death sentence for the three was final.

Aquino’s spokesman Ricky Carandang warned that China had a record of standing firm about executing foreigners despite appeals from their governments.

“We saw recently, the British government tried to do this and they (the Chinese) did not give in,” he said in a television interview.

Akmal Shaikh, a 53-year-old father-of-three who supporters say was mentally ill, was executed in December 2009 for drug smuggling despite extensive British pleas for clemency.

Of the condemned Filipinos, a 42-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman are scheduled to be executed on Monday in the southern city of Xiamen. A 38-year-old woman is due to be put to death in Shenzhen on Tuesday.

All three were convicted of smuggling heroin at separate trials in 2008, but Philippine officials say they were duped into their crimes and should face long prison sentences instead of execution.

The diplomatic flare-up comes after ties chilled over the deaths of eight Hong Kong Chinese in a bungled bus hostage rescue in Manila last year.

There was outrage in the southern Chinese territory over Aquino’s decision to slap only minor criminal charges against several police officials involved in the fiasco.

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