>Kopi Talk Open-ended

>Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) – Just when it seemed as though nothing could be done, a welcome crack made itself evident. Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay, on a desperate trip to Beijing to ask for mercy on behalf of three Filipino OFWs sentenced to be executed for drug trafficking, announced that his trip, which the Chinese government had initially resisted, had borne fruit: The Chinese government would stay the three executions for an undetermined amount of time.

“The Philippine side stated that it fully respects China’s law and the verdict of the SPC [Supreme People’s Court], and expressed its sincere appreciation to China for the decision of the SPC to postpone the execution within the scope of Chinese law,” read a joint statement from the two governments released late Friday.

Binay’s unexpected diplomatic success came mere days before the planned executions. Ramon Credo and Sally Villanueva were slated for death by lethal injection on Monday in Xiamen while Elizabeth Batain was due for the same fate Tuesday in Shenzhen. The three had been sentenced to death for the crime of drug trafficking.

Though the announcement of the stay is welcome news, there is still much to do in order to save the three Filipinos on death row; the ultimate goal of the Philippine government is to convince the Chinese officials to change the three Filipinos’ sentences from death to life imprisonment.

The seesawing events in Beijing underscore two important points. The first is the question of just how good our relationship with China is. It didn’t start off well. When the death sentences were first announced last week, it seemed as though the Philippine government’s efforts were not only in vain, but that our officials were being humiliated in the process of trying to save the three.

President Aquino had admitted that the Philippines’ no-show at the Oslo awarding of the Nobel Prize was an attempt to change Chinese minds about the executions. The Philippines’ deportation of several Taiwanese citizens to China instead of Taiwan is believed by some quarters to be linked to the same goal. The Chinese refused to budge, citing that the three had been found guilty in accordance with Chinese law. It seemed as though the Philippine officials’ jumping through Chinese hoops were all for nothing–until the dramatic change of events Friday night.

The joint statement read: “The two sides exchanged views on a wide range of issues concerning bilateral relations, including judicial cooperation. The two sides expressed the determination to work together and make joint efforts in further strengthening the relationship of strategic cooperation.” The goal is to find a solution that will save the three lives while remaining true to Chinese law.

The other, perhaps, more important, point is that the Philippine government needs to take much better care of the countless OFWs around the world, particularly those charged with all sorts of crime. Often called modern-day heroes, the OFWs deserve the Aquino government’s full attention as soon as they are accused of crimes–and not when they are already on their way to the gallows. To do this, the government also needs to crack down on the syndicates and dealers who are turning the country’s most precious exports into drug mules; these criminals are among the true evils in the world today; the blood of any OFWs executed is on their hands.

Beyond that, it is up to the Department of Foreign Affairs to further increase its vigilance and improve its ability to monitor the status of Filipinos traveling the globe. The Philippine government needs to be able to assure OFWs that should anything go wrong, the government will be there posthaste to lend legal support when the cases are still fresh and not when the last remaining means are prayer and last-minute missions like Binay’s.

Only then will the traveling Filipino workers be accorded the respect they deserve. Only then will the Philippines know that their citizens cross the world’s many borders without suspicion, intent to live in peace, free from persecution and execution.

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