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World - Asia/Pacific

Philippines executes first prisoner in 23 years

No reprieve for man convicted of raping stepdaughter

February 5, 1999
Web posted at: 2:25 a.m. EST (0725 GMT)

In this story:

Death penalty restored amid concerns about crime

Wife makes last visit

RELATED STORIES, SITES



MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- The Philippines executed the first person in 23 years Friday in defiance of appeals by the Vatican and international human rights groups.

Leo Echegaray, 38, who was convicted of raping his 10-year- old stepdaughter, died by lethal injection at a prison on the outskirts of Manila at 3:19 p.m. (0719 GMT/2:19 a.m. EST).

Fierce debate raged across the Philippines -- Asia's only predominantly Roman Catholic country -- in the lead up to his execution.

A last-minute appeal to the Philippines Supreme Court by Echegaray's lawyers asked the court to postpone his death because they had not received a copy of the government's revised rules for executions. The court denied the request.

At dawn, Echegaray, was led to a prison death chamber as demonstrators outside welcomed the return of the death penalty.

Echegaray clenched a Bible in his handcuffed hands as he walked, head lowered. He wore a button saying "Execute justice, not people" and an orange wristband distributed by election campaigners for President Joseph Estrada.

Estrada has steadfastly refused to stop Echegaray's execution.

Security was tight around the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa, a Manila suburb, where Echegaray was executed. Nearby schools were closed and barbed wire barricades erected at the prison gates to hold back large numbers of reporters and both pro- and anti-death penalty advocates

To dramatize his vow to see the execution through, Estrada ordered Thursday that a telephone hot line 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 had given her a message to read after his death, saying that the government had 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."

Mike Cohen and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Philippines set to execute first prisoner in 23 years
February 5, 1999
Philippines' top court clears way for rapist's execution
January 19, 1999
Philippines prepares for first execution in decades
January 3, 1999
First Philippine execution in 22 years set for January
November 30, 1998

RELATED SITES:
World Guide: Phillipines
The Phillipines
Chronology of Philippine History
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