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Philippines Won’t Hold Up Execution

February 3, 1999

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The president of the Philippines declared his intention Wednesday to turn down any appeal from the pope to stop the execution of a child rapist.

The case of Leo Echegaray has set off a debate over the death penalty that has divided many Filipinos. Groups from both sides have organized demonstrations ahead of Echegaray’s execution.

Echegaray, who has been convicted of repeatedly raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter, is to be put to death by lethal injection on Friday.

The execution would be the first in 23 years in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation.

Echegaray has written Pope John Paul II asking him to appeal to President Joseph Estrada to defer the execution and order a review of his case.

Last week, the governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, commuted the death sentence of a convicted murderer following an appeal from the pope.

Estrada, who has received a letter from the Vatican urging the abolition of the death penalty, said Echegaray’s execution must serve as a warning to would-be rapists.

``As president, I have to strengthen my resolve,″ Estrada said. ``I have to protect our children, especially the girls.″

Echegaray originally was to have been executed on Jan. 4 but the Supreme Court ordered a last-minute delay to allow Congress to review the death penalty law.

Lawmakers, however, voted not to undertake a review and the court ordered the execution to proceed.

The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 1987 but restored it in January 1994 in response to widespread crime.

The Catholic church may be losing hope that Echegaray could still be saved.

In a statement Wednesday addressed to Echegaray, Oscar Cruz, president of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said: ``My prayers go to you. Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but not your soul.″

``If you’re guilty as the courts said, then repent much and well. If you’re not, as you claim, then God knows.″

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