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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Phone call too late to stop execution

The first executions since 1976 began again this year

By John Maclean in Manila

A convicted child rapist in the Philippines has been executed by lethal injection in spite of a last-minute order by President Joseph Estrada to spare his life.

The process of executing Eduardo Agbayani had already begun when the presidential palace called the death chamber to stop it. But by the time the message got through, he was already dying.

With only hours to go before Agbayani's execution, President Estrada had ruled out a reprieve describing the condemned man's crime as bestial.

[ image: President Estrada's last-minute phone call failed to stop the execution]
President Estrada's last-minute phone call failed to stop the execution
Agbayani was convicted of raping his own daughter, then 14 years old. But at the last minute a Roman Catholic bishop persuaded the president to change his mind.

The presidential palace tried contacting the death chamber of the national penitentiary by telephone, but to no avail.

One senior prison official said he thought the phone call was a prank.

Eventually the message to halt the execution got through, but by that time 48-year-old Agbayani had been strapped down and the poison had already been injected into his bloodstream.

Dead within minutes

Witnesses said a prison official in the death chamber called out "Hold, hold" but it was too late. Within minutes Agbayani was dead.

His last words were: "Farewell to everyone."

This mishap is bound to reopen a bitter debate about the death penalty in the Philippines.

Capital punishment was restored five years ago and since then more than 1,000 people have been sentenced to death.

The first of them was executed in February.

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