Philippine VP to go to China to try to save drug mule

Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay will go to China in a last-ditch effort to save a Filipina from being executed for drug-trafficking, his office said Friday.

Binay will leave on Sunday, carrying a letter from President Benigno Aquino to Chinese President Xi Jinping asking to spare the woman, a statement from the vice-president's office said.

Commenting on the chances for success, Binay said: "Let's just continue praying."

Binay said this would be his second time to go to China to deliver a letter asking for a stay of execution.

The previous time was in February 2011 when he sought a reprieve for three Filipinos also convicted of drug trafficking, but the three were eventually executed on March 30, 2011.

The executions triggered widespread condemnation in the Philippines, which abolished the death penalty in 2006.

The woman facing execution was one of two Filipinos arrested for smuggling more than 12 kilogrammes (26 pounds) of high-grade heroin into China in 2011.

Her male companion, who was caught with her, has also been handed a death penalty but with a two-year delay.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the government was seeking to bring the woman's family to China as soon as possible so they could see her before she dies.

The execution is due to take place between Friday and Tuesday next week. Binay's office said the woman's lawyers had informed them that it would take place on Tuesday.

The scheduled execution could further complicate already rocky bilateral relations between the two countries soured by overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

About a tenth of the Philippines' 100 million population work abroad, many of them under harsh conditions where drug traffickers sometimes exploit them into becoming drug mules.

Hernandez earlier said that 213 Filipino have been jailed in drug-related cases in China.