BEIJING (AP) — China, the world's most prolific executioner, put a Filipino man convicted of drug trafficking to death on Thursday despite a clemency appeal from the Philippine president.
Hours before he was put to death, the 35-year-old man, who was not identified, was allowed to meet briefly with his two siblings and two cousins who traveled to south China's Guangxi province, Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay told reporters in Manila.
The man was then led to a courtroom where the sentence was read and whisked away to the death chamber, located in Liuzhou, about two hours away from the prison, where he was given a lethal injection, he said.
"The subject was very calm, but his family was crying," Binay said. "At 12:30 (p.m.) our countryman was executed."
The man was arrested in 2008 at Guilin International Airport while trying to smuggle 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) of heroin from Malaysia. Smuggling more than 1.76 ounces (50 grams) of heroin or other drugs is punishable by death in China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing that the case was handled in accordance with the law and that the countries had been in contact over it.
Although China went ahead with the execution despite an appeal for clemency from President Benigno Aquino III on humanitarian grounds, government officials have said they respect China's judicial system and that the execution would not hurt bilateral relations. The Philippines has abolished the death penalty.
Overlapping territorial claims over potentially gas-rich islands in the South China Sea have strained ties between the Philippines and China.
China refuses to say how many prisoners it puts to death each year, though Amnesty International estimates it is in the thousands, far above the number executed anywhere else in the world. The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation estimated that China executed 5,000 people in 2009.
There was no immediate Chinese media coverage of the Filipino man's execution. While death penalty cases involving corrupt officials, terror suspects or violent criminals are routinely reported, many lower-profile cases go uncovered by the tightly controlled Chinese press.
On Thursday, the official Xinhua News Agency published a lengthy report and photos of two convicted Chinese gang leaders who were executed in the southern megacity of Chongqing on Wednesday.
Xinhua said female gang boss Wang Ziqi forced at least 120 women into prostitution between 1994 and 2009 and oversaw a crime syndicate through her Bright Spot Tea House. She and one of her male associates, Gu Mingtao, were put to death, it said.
A Xinhua news photo showed the pair dressed in thickly padded pajamas, their hands cuffed, standing in a Chongqing court as officials announced that the Supreme People's Court had reviewed and upheld their death sentences.
In March, China executed three Filipino workers also convicted of smuggling heroin despite last-minute appeals and political concessions by Philippine leaders. The Philippine government said it was able to prove that a drug syndicate had taken advantage of the Filipinos.
The head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Jose Gutierrez Jr., said earlier that authorities were hunting for the recruiter of the executed drug mule, who is suspected to be a member of an African drug trafficking syndicate. He said the man convicted in China had previously engaged in drug trafficking and was paid $4,000 to $6,000 for every smuggling operation.
On the streets of the Philippine capital, reaction was mixed.
"On the one hand, if he really did it and is deserving of that punishment, then this is all right," said construction worker Edwin Cruzado. "But if a person is innocent, that is very sad."
He said that poverty is no excuse for a crime. "But their punishment in China is a bit harsh," Cruzado added.
The plight of millions of Filipino living overseas, most of them contractual workers, is an emotional issue in the country.
Foreign relations are anchored on a policy to ensure safety and welfare for workers, who often find themselves in conflict zones and countries with starkly different cultures. About 10 percent of the country's 94 million people work abroad to escape widespread poverty and unemployment at home.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano, Oliver Teves and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila contributed to this report.