Ruling delayed for Filipino jailed in spy case

AP News
Posted: Nov 23, 2009 6:24 PM

A judge reserved ruling Monday on whether a former Philippine National Police officer who served prison time for receiving classified U.S. government documents will be extradited to face murder charges back home.

U.S. Magistrate Esther Salas heard arguments on an attempt by Michael Ray Aquino to fight extradition, an effort that began in earnest earlier this year after the 43-year-old had served more than three years behind bars for receiving the documents from a former Marine at Fort Monmouth.

Aquino was released from federal prison in March but has been held in the Hudson County Jail while his extradition case goes through the courts.

Aquino and two other men, also former Philippine National Police officers, have been charged with a double murder in the Philippines nine years ago, and Monday's hearing focused on statements by the men, Cesar Mancao and Glenn Dumlao.

Aquino headed a division of an organized crime task force and held a senior position to both Mancao and Dumlao. The men are charged in the kidnapping and subsequent deaths of Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, in November 2000.

According to statements by Mancao, Aquino was in charge of "special operations," a euphemism for actions aimed at quelling opposition to then-President Joseph Estrada.

Mancao and Dumlao have already been extradited to the Philippines and await trial, but Aquino's attorney, Mark Berman, argued Monday that the evidence doesn't establish that Aquino ordered the murders.

"Nowhere in any of the statements does anybody say, 'Michael Ray Aquino told us to commit murder,'" Berman said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Kanefsky argued that there was enough evidence to show probable cause that Aquino could be guilty of the crime, which is all that is required in an extradition proceeding.

"We're not here for the trial of Mr. Aquino," he told Salas. "We are not here to establish his guilt or innocence."

Salas did not say when she would release her ruling.

Aquino fled the Philippines in 2001 after being charged with the murders, and eventually settled in New York City with his wife and son. He was charged in 2005 with espionage but pleaded guilty in 2006 to possessing secret documents containing information on the United States' confidential intelligence sources and methods.

He was sentenced to 76 months in prison, but due to a sentencing error a federal judge reduced that to time served last March after Aquino had spent 3 1/2 years behind bars.

Former FBI intelligence analyst Leandro Aragoncillo, a U.S. Marine who worked as an aide to military advisers for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney, pleaded guilty to passing the documents to Aquino and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors allege the men planned to use the documents to overthrow the government of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.