MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Chinese court has upheld the drug trafficking conviction of a Filipino man and set his execution for next week despite appeals for clemency from the Philippine president, officials said Wednesday.
The 35-year-old man, who was not identified, was arrested in September 2008 at Guilin International Airport in southern China while trying to smuggle 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) of heroin into Guangxi province from Malaysia, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Smuggling more than 50 grams of heroin or other drugs is punishable by death in China.
Philippine officials based in China were told Monday that the Supreme People's Court in Beijing had upheld a lower court's decision to impose the death penalty on the Filipino man and that a Dec. 8 execution date had been set, the department said.
The Philippine government provided all possible help to the condemned man and made "sustained and exhaustive representations with the Chinese government at all levels," including an appeal from President Benigno Aquino III to his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, to try to have the death sentence commuted to life in prison, officials said.
The foreign office expressed "its sadness at this turn of events" and said the convicted man's family has been told of the Chinese court's decision. Arrangements were being made for family members to immediately leave for China to meet with the condemned man.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the Philippines respects China's judicial system and that the planned execution would not hurt bilateral relations like when three other Filipino drug offenders were executed by Chinese authorities in March.
"It was done in compliance with their legal processes — we respect that," Lacierda said in a news conference. "This should not cause a hiccup in Filipino-Chinese relations."
The condemned man's family members said they were devastated by the court's decision and asked Filipinos to pray for him. In a statement released by the foreign affairs department, they asked the media to refrain from hounding them at this time.
"It is a very difficult time for us and we are trying our best, through prayers, to cope with the situation," the family said.
The plight of Filipino workers overseas is an emotional issue in the Philippines, and ensuring their safety and welfare, often in conflict zones and countries with starkly different cultures, is a cornerstone of Philippine foreign policy. About 10 percent of the country's 94 million people work abroad to escape widespread poverty and unemployment at home.
In March, China executed three Filipino workers who were convicted of smuggling heroin despite last-minute appeals and political concessions by Philippine leaders. The three were arrested in 2008 and convicted and sentenced in 2009.
Aquino sent at least three letters to Hu and deployed his vice president to appeal, prompting China to postpone the executions of the three by a month. The Philippine government said it was able to prove that a drug syndicate had taken advantage of the Filipino workers.
Migrante, a group that works for the welfare of Filipino workers, urged the Philippine government to continue efforts to save the convicted man in Guangxi.
Vice President Jejomar Binay's spokesman, Joey Salgado, said Binay was ready to leave for China anytime to make a final appeal if a meeting with top Chinese officials can be arranged.
Migrante also renewed its call for the formation of an interagency government task force that would focus on efforts to have the death sentences of Filipinos abroad commuted.
"This is a sad, bitter reality confronting us as a nation, especially if we know that there are more than a hundred of them still on death row in various countries," the group said in a statement.