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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 08:12 GMT
Philippines delays executions
Filipino anti-death protestors outside the court
Opponents have campaigned hard to stop the executions
The Philippine Supreme Court has postponed for 30 days a scheduled execution of two convicted kidnappers.

The decision was taken after the court heard new arguments seeking to prove that Robert Lara and Roderick Licayan were innocent.

The execution of the two men convicted of involvement in the kidnapping of a Chinese businessman and his aide in 1998 was due to take place on Friday.

The last execution in the Philippines was carried out in 2000.

God has answered our prayers
Roberto Lara's mother

Last month, President Gloria Arroyo lifted a four-year-old moratorium on the death penalty, opening the way for the executions to resume.

Her decision, which comes ahead of presidential elections in 2004, followed a series of kidnappings which particularly targeted the ethnic Chinese community.

'Miscarriage of justice'

The justices voted 7-6 to "temporarily suspend the execution of Roderick Licayan and Roberto Lara on 30 January 2004, for a period of 30 calendar days," the court's clerk in the capital, Manila, announced.

The justices said they needed more time to consider whether claims of new evidence would warrant a re-trial of the two convicted men - a key demand by public defenders.

On Monday, chief public defender Percida Acosta said that a lower court that convicted the two men had failed to give them due process by not allowing witnesses' testimony to corroborate defendants' claims of innocence.

Ms Acosta warned of "a miscarriage of justice" if the executions - by lethal injection - were to go ahead.

Outside a prison south of Manila, Mr Lara's mother, Benilda, said she was "very happy" with the court's decision.

"I did not sleep all night," tearful mother said, as she hugged her son's two young children.

"God has answered our prayers."

Divisive issue

A presidential spokesman said Ms Arroyo had halted all preparations for the executions after the court ruling.

In the past, President Arroyo has used her powers to grant clemency to those sentenced to death by the courts.

But last month she said she "shall no longer stand in the way of executions".

Experts say the debate whether to execute the two convicted men has divided many Filipinos.

Supporters of capital punishment argue that it deters would-be criminals.

Opponents, including the influential Roman Catholic church, say the death penalty is inhumane and does not deter crimes.

Philippines executions contested
26 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Philippines executions to resume
05 Dec 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Philippine executions suspended
30 Sep 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Gloria Arroyo
28 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
09 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: The Philippines
18 Jul 03  |  Country profiles

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