Friday, February 18, 2011

DFA: Over 220 Pinoys in China’s jails for drug trafficking

Apart from the three Filipinos whose death sentences were deferred on Friday by China’s high court, some 500 Filipinos – mostly women – are still languishing in various jails abroad for drug trafficking, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) disclosed Friday.

Of that figure, almost half or 227 cases involve Filipinos in China, while the rest involve those in the Middle East and neighboring Southeast Asian countries.

The spate cases of drug trafficking involving Filipino women started in 2007, said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Eduardo Malaya in a press conference.

A year after, the number drug smuggling cases involving Filipinos in China likewise dramatically surged, with Filipino women aged 20 to 40 years old being victimized by international drug syndicates as “drug mules" or couriers.

And while Filipinos carrying such illegal substances end up languishing in jails after being caught in the destination country’s airports, the ringleaders – mostly Nigerian and Zambians according to Philippine authorities – remain at large and continue their underworld operations due to their connections.

In recent years, Filipino workers bound overseas have fallen prey drug syndicates to by allowing themselves to serve as couriers to transport illegal drugs inside their luggage, shoes, or fabric buttons.

Syndicates, however, have recently come up with more dangerous ways of smuggling prohibited substances, like stuffing drugs inside the bodies of Filipino couriers. 

Filipinos intercepted at airports in China, Macau and Hong Kong have a common story: the drugs carried in their luggage, or even put inside their bodies, all came from “friends" they had met in transit or while in another country, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam or even Nepal.

Prospective victims are then given airplane tickets and pocket money to travel to China or its territories, and are promised to get paid no less than $500 (about P21,700) upon delivery of the contraband to a contact person.

Death for drug traffickers

China strictly imposes tough penalties on persons caught in possession of prohibited drugs. Smuggling of drugs in amounts as little as 50 grams carries a 15-year prison sentence; drug smuggling in larger amounts are meted with a life sentence or even the death penalty.

Under China’s criminal law, a capital punishment with a two-year reprieve means convicts are given two years to undergo “reform through labor," after which the sentence may be commuted to life imprisonment if the convicts are deemed to have shown genuine repentance for their crimes.

In death sentences without reprieve, on the other hand, decisions of lower courts are automatically elevated to the higher courts for review. The People's Supreme Court is the court of last resort before the judgment becomes final and executory.

A white paper from the Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China states that, in actual judicial practice, over 99 percent of criminals given the death penalty with a two-year reprieve have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment or set terms of imprisonment through reform. 

Diplomatic sources say the decision of China’s Supreme People’s Court to postpone the executions of three Filipinos convicted of drug-smuggling could be the first such case in that country for death sentences without reprieve, although GMA News has no way to confirm this observation for now.

The court affirmed on February 11 the death sentences imposed on Ramon Credo, 42, Sally Ordinario, 32, and Elizabeth Batain, 38, but deferred the execution of the three Filipino drug convicts.

Credo and Ordinario were scheduled for execution by lethal injection in Xiamen on February 21, while Batain was to be executed in Shenzhen on February 22.

This is the first time that Filipinos were sentenced to be executed in China for drug trafficking charges in the 36 years of Philippines-China diplomatic relations.

Credo and Ordinario smuggled at least four kilograms each of heroin, while Batain was arrested with almost seven kilograms in China. – JA/MRT/JV, GMA News Online

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