Philippines VP pursues clemency for 3 in China

The Philippine vice president met Chinese officials Friday to make a last-ditch appeal for clemency for three Filipinos due to be executed next week for drug trafficking.

Filipino officials say the two women and one man — including a 32-year-old mother of two and a 42-year-old father of five — were paid to take packages to China that they thought were legal cargo such as office supplies but which actually contained hidden heroin.

China says the three defendants were duly convicted under a rigorous judicial process.

"I don't want to speculate," Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay said shortly after his arrival in Beijing. According to the The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department he met Friday with the president of China's Supreme People's Court and was scheduled to meet a Chinese vice foreign minister.

A statement released Friday from President Benigno Aquino III said the "entire Filipino nation is united" in appealing to China's top leaders for leniency for the three.

Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Binay was carrying a letter from Aquino to President Hu Jintao outlining that appeal.

"We do not mean to say that we are condoning the acts of the three but yet we are appealing for a reprieve for humanitarian reasons," she said. "We remain steadfast in our hopes that the trip of the vice president will be successful."

Relatives of the three Filipinos are to depart Saturday for China, officials said.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the matter was an independent criminal case and China hoped that the Philippines would keep in mind "the overall interest of bilateral relations."

The three were arrested separately in 2008 carrying packages each containing more than four and six kilograms (more than eight and 13 pounds) of heroin. They were convicted and sentenced in 2009.

China's highest court last week affirmed the court decisions, the foreign affairs department said.

Since 2006, more than 200 Filipinos have faced drug cases in China. These three would be the first Filipinos executed in China for drug trafficking.

Two are scheduled to die by lethal injection Monday in Xiamen, and one Tuesday in Shenzhen.

Binay's trip comes after Manila has made several moves in recent months to win a commutation of the sentences.

President Benigno Aquino III did not send a representative to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December honoring a jailed Chinese dissident, and two weeks ago, Manila deported to Beijing 14 Taiwanese facing fraud charges in China despite protests from Taipei.

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Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano in Manila contributed to this report.