China on Wednesday executed three Filipinos who were convicted of drug smuggling despite last-minute appeals for clemency and political concessions by Philippine leaders, officials said.
The three had not been told they would be executed Wednesday, although their sentences were promulgated early in the day, Philippine Consul Noel Novicio said. It was the first time that Philippine citizens were executed in China.
China normally does not announce executions. Amnesty International says China is the world's biggest executioner, with thousands of convicts killed every year. The Philippines has abolished the death penalty.
Novicio said Sally Ordinario-Villanueva and Ramon Credo met their families early Wednesday before they were put to death by lethal injection in Xiamen city in southeastern China. The third Filipino, Elizabeth Batain, was allowed to meet with her relatives hours ahead of her execution in southeastern Shenzhen city, he said.
"They gave us only one hour (with her). They have no mercy," Ordinario-Villanueva's sister, Maylene Ordinario, said in a text message from Xiamen to her family in the Philippines.
She said her sister had been blessed by a priest and "she said she wants to be forgiven for all her sins, but she insisted that she was a victim."
"She asked us to take care of her children, to take care of each other and to help one another. I have not accepted what will happen. We are forcing ourselves to accept it, but I can't," she told Manila radio station DZBB.
Neighbors, relatives and activists held overnight vigils at the homes of the condemned, offering prayers to the distraught family members. The dominant Roman Catholic Church, which opposes the death penalty, held a special Mass in Manila.
The three were arrested separately in 2008 carrying packages containing at least 8 pounds (4 kilograms) of heroin. They were convicted and sentenced in 2009.
The Philippine government's appeals for clemency included three letters from President Benigno Aquino III to his Chinese counterpart and a February visit to Beijing by the vice president which prompted China to postpone the executions by a month. The government said it was able to prove that a drug syndicate took advantage of the Filipinos.
Jayson Ordinario, Ordinario-Villanueva's younger brother, said last week that his sister was hired as a cellphone dealer in Xiamen and was tricked into carrying a bag that had a secret compartment loaded with heroin, allegedly by her job recruiter.
Aquino urged Filipinos to remain calm, saying the Philippines should respect China's laws.
He said while the three were convicted of drug trafficking, they could also be considered victims of unscrupulous recruiters and drug traffickers, and of a society unable to provide enough jobs at home.
"Our ultimate goal is to create a situation where people are not pressured to resort to these things, where they can find enough gainful employment in the Philippines," he added.
China defended the executions.
"Drug trafficking is universally recognized as a severe crime," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters at a regular news conference Tuesday in Beijing. "In China, our judicial authorities handled the case independently and we grant equal treatment to foreign drug traffickers. ... China has fulfilled its international obligations in the process."
She added, "We'd like to stress this is an isolated individual case. We would not like to see any impact on bilateral relations."
Smuggling more than 50 grams of heroin or other drugs is punishable by death in China.
In other moves reportedly related to the Filipinos' case, Aquino decided not to send a representative to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December in Oslo, Norway, honoring a jailed Chinese dissident. Manila also deported to Beijing last month 14 Taiwanese facing fraud charges in China despite protests from Taipei.
The plight of Filipinos overseas is an emotional issue in the Philippines and one of the pillars of the country's foreign policy. About 10 percent of the Philippines' 94 million people toil abroad to escape widespread poverty and unemployment at home.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano in Manila and Tini Tran in Beijing contributed to this report.