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Philippines Court Rejects Petition

September 23, 2002

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition by human rights lawyers to halt the planned executions of 30 prisoners while Congress debates whether to abolish capital punishment.

The court ruled that the death penalty was constitutional and said lawyers for the Free Legal Assistance Group must seek a presidential stay to prevent the executions.

Five executions, all by lethal injection, are scheduled for this year.

``This ruling means any delay in the executions now rests entirely on the president,″ court spokesman Ishmail Khan said.

Free Legal Assistance sought to halt six scheduled executions and to stop the scheduling of 24 more.

The House and Senate are deliberating bills that would replace capital punishment with life imprisonment. Lawmakers said the chances of the bills passing were growing.

Maria Socorro Diokno, secretary-general of FLAG, said the lawyers’ group has also petitioned the U.N. human rights committee to ask the Philippines to halt the executions and investigate claims by some death-row inmates that their rights were violated by authorities.

The death penalty, abolished in 1987, was restored in 1994 for crimes such as rape, kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking. Seven convicts were executed in 1999 and 2000.

More than 1,700 people have been sentenced to death since 1994. At least five convicts are awaiting execution this year, including two scheduled for next month.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo suspended the death penalty after she took office in January 2001, but lifted the moratorium in October, saying it had emboldened criminals. No executions have occurred since the moratorium was lifted.

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