MANILA, January 15, 2004 (STAR) European envoys are to visit Muntinlupa’s death row today to look at conditions of condemned prisoners ahead of two executions planned at the end of the month, the European Commission (EC) office here said yesterday.

The visit of the envoys, representing European Union (EU) member states as well as Norway and Switzerland, is "part of the Euro policy stand on the death penalty and human rights in general," EC spokeswoman Alicia Louro told AFP.

It would "let the ambassadors familiarize themselves with the prison system and conduct a dialogue with the inmates," she added.

European countries led by the 15-member EU have been at the forefront for the abolition of capital punishment.

Louro, Third Secretary of the EC delegation in the Philippines, said that the ambassadors of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Spain will be present at the New Bilibid Prisons tour beginning at 9 a.m.

A representative of the Czech Republic, which like Norway and Switzerland is a non-EU member but will be joining in May, will also be on hand for the visit.

The ambassadors will be accompanied by the head of the EC delegation in Manila, Jan De Kok, to inspect the facilities inside the NBP and the situation of the inmates.

Louro said the EU issued a demarche on the issue of capital punishment in the Philippines last month, which was delivered to the the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople by the Italian ambassador.

"It was clear from our discussion that the EU understands, although it disagrees, with our decision to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. It was also clear that the Philippines understands the traditional position of the EU on this matter. It is regrettable that we are in disagreement, but we agreed to continue to keep our lines of communication open on this issue, and to hear each others’ positions," Ople had said.

Claudia Roth, the German commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid, during her visit here last month expressed the German government’s support for the efforts of the Philippine government in abolishing the death penalty.

She reiterated that the death penalty has long been abolished in the EU and that she hopes other countries such as the Philippines will adopt this stance.

"You can be a strong state even if you don’t need the death penalty. Strong if as a means of justice you do not need the death penalty," Roth said.

Filipino officials announced early this month that two death row inmates would be put to death by injection on Jan. 30 after President Arroyo declared she would end a near four-year moratorium on capital punishment.

She said last week that while she was morally against the death penalty, she hoped that through the planned executions, kidnap gangs preying on businessmen in the Philippines "will learn their lesson and we can go back to our policy of no executions."

Neither the identities of the inmates, nor the crimes for which they were convicted have been revealed. About a thousand inmates are awaiting possible execution in the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo’s decision has angered the dominant Roman Catholic Church, which has consistently opposed capital punishment. — AFP, Marvin Sy

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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