MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The Chinese government on Friday ordered a stay of execution for the three Filipinos convicted of drug trafficking.
This came after Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay went to Beijing and held talks with Chinese officials to seek leniency for the three convicts.
Ramon "Monchito" Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, and Elizabeth Batain have been convicted of drug trafficking in China.
In a joint statement, the Philippines "expressed its sincere appreciation to China for the decision of the SPC (Supreme People's Court) to postpone the execution within the scope of Chinese law."
The joint statement said the "Chinese side briefed the Vice President on the final verdict of the Supreme People's Court on the three (3) Filipinos sentenced to death for drug trafficking and the decision of the SPC to postpone the execution within the scope of Chinese law."
Binay met with the following Chinese officials and members of their staff: H.E. Mr. Dai Bingguo, State Councillor, H.E. Mr. Wang Shengjun, President of the Supreme People's Court and H.E. Mr. Zhang Zhijun, Executive Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The joint statement said, "The two sides exchanged views on a wide range of issues concerning bilateral relations, including judicial cooperation. The two sides expressed the determination to work together and make joint efforts in further strengthening the relationship of strategic cooperation."
The two countries also said they "are determined to work together in the fight against transnational crimes, including drug trafficking."
Of the condemned Filipinos, a 42-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman were scheduled to be executed on Monday in the southeastern city of Xiamen. A 38-year-old woman was due to be put to death in Shenzhen on Tuesday.
China had originally rejected Philippine requests for a visit by Binay on behalf of the three drug mules, but in a surprise move late Thursday, it softened its stance.
Binay, who is due to leave Beijing Saturday, had said in a statement he respected the decisions of the Chinese courts but would argue during his trip that the three deserved a lighter penalty.
"We do not condone drug trafficking. However, we believe that these Filipinos were merely victims of international drug syndicates," he said.
Aquino, meanwhile, said Friday he had sent a letter of appeal to his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao and called on all Filipinos "to unite ourselves in prayer beginning today at sundown."
"All our prayers will storm the heavens to touch the heart of God, the God who will make a way when there seems to be no way," he said in a statement.
All three Filipinos were convicted of smuggling heroin at separate trials in 2008, but Philippine officials say they were duped into their crimes and should face long prison sentences instead of execution.
Ties between the two countries were tested last year by the deaths in Manila of eight tourists from Hong Kong, who were killed in a bungled rescue bid by Philippine police after they had been taken hostage aboard a bus.
Aquino sparked outrage in Hong Kong by later deciding to press only minor criminal charges against several police officials involved in the fiasco. -- With Agence France-Presse; Additional reports from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News