Philippines set to execute first prisoner in 23 years
No reprieve for man convicted of raping stepdaughter, president saysFebruary 4, 1999
Web posted at: 9:49 p.m. EST (0249 GMT)
MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Despite appeals from the Vatican and international human rights groups, Philippine President Joseph Estrada says he will not intervene to stop his country's first execution in 23 years, which is scheduled to take place Friday afternoon.
Leo Echegaray, 38, who was convicted of raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at a prison on the outskirts of Manila at 3 p.m. (0700 GMT/2 a.m. EST.) His pending execution has set off a fierce debate in Asia's only predominantly Roman Catholic country.
To dramatize his vow to see the execution through, Estrada ordered Thursday that a telephone hotline between his office and the prison be removed so there will be no expectation of a reprieve.
"I've got to be firm, to send a message to future rapists that we mean business," the president said. "No one will change my mind."
Death penalty restored amid concerns about crime
The Philippines last executed a prisoner in 1976 and abolished the death penalty in 1987. But capital punishment was reinstated in 1994 amid rising concerns about violent crime, and Estrada was at the forefront of the push to restore it.
There are 915 people on death row in the Philippines, and eight could be executed this year.
In January, the Supreme Court postponed Echegaray's execution to give Congress a chance to review the death penalty law, but Congress rejected changes.
The resumption of capital punishment puts the Philippine government at odds with the Catholic Church, which opposes the death penalty. The Vatican appealed for clemency, and churches throughout the country have been instructed to peal their bells at the hour set for the execution.
More than 100 Catholic nuns, priests and others wearing black masks and nooses around their necks marched Thursday to the presidential palace, asking that the execution be called off.
Wife makes last visit
Carrying a pink rose in her hand, Echegaray's wife visited him in prison for the final time Thursday. She fainted during the visit and was taken to the prison hospital to recover.
She told The Associated Press that Echegaray has given her a message to read after his death, saying that the government has killed an innocent man and that the death penalty should be abolished.
The stepdaughter whom he is accused of raping said she was praying for a chance to forget what happened to her -- and praying for the victims of those criminals on death row in the Philippines.
About a dozen activists from a group called Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption held a candlelight vigil outside the prison in support of the execution.
"We are all victims of heinous crimes," said Laura Vizconde, an elderly man whose wife and two daughters were murdered in 1991. "We would like to see the law properly implemented."
Reporter Mike Cohen andReuters contributed to this report.
Philippines' top court clears way for rapist's execution
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