MANILA, March 29, 2011 (AFP) – Special masses were held in the Philippines Tuesday as many in the Catholic country prayed for a “miracle” to save three Filipinos scheduled to be executed in China.

Convicted drug traffickers Ramon Credo, 42, Sally Villanueva, 32, and Elizabeth Batain, 38, are due to be put to death on Wednesday after Chinese authorities rejected Philippine government appeals for clemency.

The Philippine government had heavily lobbied Chinese authorities in recent months to spare the lives of the trio, including by sending Vice President Jejomar Binay to Beijing on a mercy mission.

But the government said last week after Chinese authorities set the date for the executions that all avenues had been exhausted, and it respected the outcome of China’s judicial system.

Nevertheless, Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International, a support group for Filipino overseas workers which has been helping the trio’s families, said many people continued to pray that Chinese authorities would relent.

“We will not lose hope. Until they are executed, there is hope,” he told AFP.

“From a legal standpoint, their chances are small. But we are praying for a miracle for them.”

Martinez noted that in 2007 a Filipina maid who was to be executed in Kuwait was granted a pardon on the eve of her execution.

Special masses were held in the Philippine capital on Tuesday in support of the trio, while Migrante members tied white ribbons on lamp posts and trees along a Manila highway to symbolise hope.

Migrante members were also to meet at the homes of the three Filipinos in the evening to begin an overnight vigil and lend moral support to their relatives.

Their impending executions have put the spotlight on the plight of the more than nine million Filipinos working abroad, many of them toiling in harsh conditions as labourers and maids.

The government had insisted that the three, who are among 227 Filipinos jailed in China for drug offences, were from poor families and had been duped by international crime syndicates into becoming drug couriers.

In December, the Philippines also skipped the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in a move President Benigno Aquino said was aimed at saving condemned Filipinos in China.

While conceding that the fate of the three due to be executed on Wednesday was in the hands of Chinese authorities, Aquino joined the public in holding out hope for them, his spokesman said.

“While the execution has not been carried out, we will still hope,” spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters.

Foreign ministry spokesman Ed Malaya said the families of Credo and Villanueva would be allowed to visit them and witness their execution Wednesday morning.

But the family of the third convict, Batain, who is scheduled to be executed in a different city, would only get to see her lifeless body, Malaya said, citing information from Chinese authorities.

Executions in China have traditionally been carried out by shooting. But increasingly, lethal injections are being used.