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Convict finds peace before death

LEGAZPI CITY --- A murder convict found peace of mind and total acceptance of the death sentence imposed upon him some 50 years ago.

Before being led to the electric chair, he asked to make his last confession and for him to be converted and baptized into the Catholic faith.

This was revealed by a 75-year old retired priest before his colleagues of fellow senior citizens while discussing the Duterte administration’s proposal to revive the death penalty for those convicted of serious crimes.

A group of Albay senior citizens regularly gathers for breakfast at their favorite food court at Ayala Mall Legazpi here where they discuss political developments of the day.

During a discussion on death penalty, balikbayan Wilfredo Santos, 77, asked why convicted Filipinos hardly admit to the crime committed, citing the case of rapist Leo Echegaray who was meted the death penalty by lethal injection on February 5, 1999.

“There is one I know who publicly confessed to the crime minutes before his death through electrocution that I personally witnessed,” responded retired priest Robert Clemena.

“I was then a young cub defense beat reporter of the Philippine Herald and was among the local and foreign journalists assigned to cover the execution of a 40-year old murder convict by electrocution during the Marcos period in 1968 at the National Bureau of Prisons in Muntinlupa, then a municipality of Rizal province,” began Fr. Clemena of his narrative.

Though he could no longer recall the name of the convict, Clemena said he was among the three Muslim convicts scheduled on that day to be executed by electric chair under then NBP Director Vicente Raval.

According to Father Clemena, while being led to the electric chair, the convicted criminal suddenly stopped and turned to the escorting chaplain. The convict told the chaplain of his desire to be converted to the Christian faith and be baptized as he had long atoned for all the sins and crimes he committed.

As everyone looked surprised, the convict also asked a young and pretty fellow cub reporter, Cookie Escano, also of the Philippine Herald, to be his Ninang (sponsor). The young lady reported readily agreed, putting her hands on the bald head of the convict, while cameras from fellow journalists covering the execution flashed and recorded the moment, including that final scene of his death on the electric chair, a big news that spread all over the world the following day.

Fr. Clemena said he noted the convict’s face – it was calm and at peace – even as he was being led to the fatal chair.

Fr. Clemena said he left Herald a year later in 1999 to join the seminary while Miss Escano decided to join the nunnery. As an ordained Catholic priest, he had time to serve as Chaplain of the Civil Relations Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The retired priest is now teaching at the Divine Word College of Legazpi. He clarified that he joined the seminary in 1999 not because of what he witnessed about the convict’s dramatic conversion but because it was in his heart that he would become a priest.

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