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Philippines Urged To Stop Execution

November 23, 1998

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The European Union, the Vatican and Canada have urged the Philippines to cancel its first execution in 22 years and repeal the death penalty.

The scheduled execution of Leo Echegaray, convicted of repeatedly raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter, has triggered a debate over the death penalty that has divided many Filipinos.

Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon said today that the European Union, the Vatican and Canada recently sent messages urging the government to abolish capital punishment, arguing it would not reduce widespread crime.

Siazon said that he will meet the ambassadors of Canada and the European Union this week to discuss the issue.

President Joseph Estrada has been told of the appeals but is unlikely to change his decision not to pardon Echegaray, Siazon said. ``We have our national laws. We have to follow the law,″ he told reporters.

Estrada said Echegaray’s execution would deter similar crimes.

Last week, Judge Thelma Ponferrada of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court ordered National Prisons Director Pedro Sistoza to execute Echegaray. Ponferrada set an execution date but has kept it secret.

Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas said he would petition the Supreme Court to order Ponferrada to reveal the execution date to the public.

Echegaray is the first among more than 800 death-row inmates to be scheduled for execution. More than 450 of those on death row were convicted of rape, including 159 who abused their children or other relatives.

Under the law, Echegaray would be informed of his impending execution only after sunrise on execution day. Lawyers appealed to Ponferrada to inform Echegaray of the execution date so he could prepare for it but the judge turned down the request.

In 1987, a new constitution abolished the death penalty but gave Congress the option of restoring it for heinous crimes such as murder, kidnapping for ransom, rape and drug trafficking.

Legislators alarmed by a rise in crime brought back the death penalty in 1994.

Many Filipinos say the death penalty will deter crime and that crime is rampant because no one has been executed.

Roman Catholic bishops and other civic groups opposed to the death penalty argue there is no proof of that. They also say poor people are more likely to be sentenced to death because they cannot afford good lawyers.

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