Aquino gets 6 years in country he says he loves

Inquirer
Last updated 04:45am (Mla time) 07/19/2007

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY — Former Philippine National Police officer Michael Ray Aquino was sentenced to six years and four months in prison for his role in a plot in which he obtained secret US documents in an effort to undermine the Philippine government.

 

Aquino apologized as he addressed the court.

 

“I am sorry for what I did,” the former intelligence officer said. “I never had the intention to harm the United States. I love this country.”

 

Federal prosecutors sought the maximum 10-year term for Aquino. They maintained that the “serious disruption” he caused to the American government outweighed any benefit he should receive for pleading guilty in the conspiracy.

 

Prosecutors also said Aquino posed a “danger to the national security, including the foreign relations of the United States” by attempting to destabilize and overthrow Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

 

Defense lawyer Mark A. Berman argued that Aquino should face less than four years in prison, contending that the documents were “likely to cause little or no harm. … Much of the information in the documents was publicly available in the Philippines.”

 

Aquino, 41, pleaded guilty in July 2006 in a deal that spared him a life term if convicted of espionage. He admitted possessing secret documents containing information on the United States’ confidential intelligence sources and methods, as well as information on terrorist threats to US military personnel in the Philippines.

 

Recipients included former President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted six years ago; Panfilo Lacson, an opposition senator; and former House Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, according to court documents.

 

Estrada and Lacson have acknowledged receiving information from Aquino or co-defendant Leandro Aragoncillo, but deny any wrongdoing.

 

Deportation likely

 

Aquino was once a senior officer under Lacson in the PNP. He fled to the United States to escape murder charges in 2001 and lived with his wife and son in New York City.
He was charged for having a hand in the November 2000 murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito.

 

After serving his prison term, he is likely to be deported.

 

He has been in federal custody since he and Aragoncillo were arrested in September 2005.

 

Aragoncillo was a former US Marine who worked as a military aide to vice presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney before becoming an FBI intelligence analyst.

 

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday after being convicted of spying for plotters seeking to overthrow the Philippine government.

 

Aragoncillo, 48, pleaded guilty to four charges in May. The most serious charge, conspiracy to transmit national defense information, can carry the death penalty. But under a plea agreement, his sentence was decreased. He is a naturalized US citizen who was born in the Philippines.

 

Prosecutors said Aragoncillo, who began working in the vice president’s office in 1999, was recruited in 2000 by opposition forces and began working with Aquino in early 2005.

 

He admitted passing information to Aquino and opposition politicians in his homeland who wanted to oust President Arroyo.

 

In court Tuesday, Berman said that Aragoncillo told FBI agents after his arrest that he had informed Cheney of his dealings with opposition forces in the Philippines.

 

Outside court, Assistant US Attorney Karl H. Buch said, “We have no evidence that he made that disclosure to Cheney.” He declined to comment further.

 

Cheney spokesperson Jamie Hennigan declined to comment on whether the vice president had any such conversation.

 

‘Un-indicted co-conspirators’

 

In Manila, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Wednesday said the government would initiate criminal charges against the “un-indicted co-conspirators” of Aquino and Aragoncillo.

 

“They (co-conspirators) have damaged the republic by exposing matters which are confidential in character, which may have affected the Philippine defense situation or even the stability of the state itself,” Gonzalez told reporters.

 

He did not identify the alleged plotters who could be charged with espionage and sedition.

 

Gonzalez said that once the trials were concluded, he would write the US justice department to get the complete records of the cases. He said US authorities had earlier promised to provide the Philippine government with the case records.

 

“All these documents are very manifest that there are people in this country who helped facilitate, who aided Aquino and Aragoncillo,” he added. Reports from Associated Press, Jerome Aning, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Dona Pazzibugan and Allison W. Lopez

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