Monday, January 4, 1999 Published at 15:48 GMT
Philippines stay of execution welcomed
The convict's new wife, Zenaida Echegaray
Opponents of the death penalty in the Philippines have been celebrating the Supreme Court's decision to block the country's first execution for more than 20 years.
The decision was made on the grounds that the country's lawmakers were reconsidering the wisdom of capital punishment.
Echegaray's lawyer called the stay of execution a significant first step to abolishing capital punishment in the Philippines.
But President Joseph Estrada, who had earlier rejected appeals for clemency, criticised the ruling. He said he would veto any move to repeal the death penalty.
Mr Estrada, who took office in June, promised to make law and order a cornerstone of his administration and vowed to wipe out crime in six months.
Echegaray, a 38-year-old house painter, had been sentenced to death for repeatedly raping his stepdaughter.
He had ordered his last meal of sardines and dried fish. When the reprieve was announced, he shared the food with relatives who had gathered at the prison.
Congress 'reconsidering death penalty'
The death penalty was re-introduced in the Philippines five years ago for murder, rape, kidnapping and drug trafficking in response to a rising tide of violent crime.
Capital punishment had been abolished in 1987 after the overthrow of President Ferdinand Marcos.
The Supreme Court ruling said: "There are signs that the legislative department is re-thinking the wisdom of imposing the death penalty in circumstances such as those obtaining in this case.
"Congress should therefore be given a reasonable chance to examine the law."
Victim wanted execution
Echegaray's stepdaughter, who was 10 when she was raped, told a radio station on Sunday: "I want him to die."
"I felt nothing but compassion for her," Mr Estrada said. "You can just imagine if she were your daughter."
Echegaray's lawyer, Theodore Te, who belongs to a human rights group opposed to capital punishment, said he would now lobby congressmen to abolish the death penalty.
The Roman Catholic Church, the dominant religious group in the Philippines, has been vocal in its opposition to the death penalty.