The spy who comes home from the cold

By Cristina DC Pastor

The U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to send fugitive Michael Ray Aquino back to the Philippines after he has served most of his 76-month prison term for espionage.

The move to extradite Aquino, accused in the 2000 killing of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, must be completed by July 3, according to a justice department memo. By July 4, he should be back home and under the jurisdiction of the Philippine justice system, one of the most corrupt in the world.

Aquino faces two possible options: He may, out of a sense of courage and conviction, turn state witness and implicate former President Joseph Estrada and his then-police chief Panfilo Lacson as the brains behind the Dacer-Corbito killings. Or, he may insist on staying silent and allow circumstances to take their course. In which case, wait till enough resources find their way into the right courtroom and judge who may later pardon him for humanitarian reasons. That’s what happened to the killers of the Vizconde family and Ninoy Aquino. ‘Just sat tight and said nothin.’

Michael Ray Aquino had three crimes under his belt: One, the alleged Dacer-Corbito political double murder committed in Manila; two, an immigration violation where he was arrested in 2005 with an expired U.S. visa; and three, espionage in cahoots with a former White House intelligence analyst.

He was convicted by the U.S. government in 2006 of spying or trying to smuggle confidential documents using government computers. His co-accused is White House intelligence analyst Leandro Aragoncillo, a Filipino American.

The justice department described what the “cohorts” Aquino and Aragoncillo did:

“Leandro Aragoncillo was a former Marine who worked at times under two administrations in the Office of the Vice President (OVP) of the United States. From that position, and later as a civilian intelligence analyst for the FBI at Fort Monmouth, Aragoncillo took classified documents and transferred them to senior Philippine officials and operatives in an attempt to assist in the overthrow of the Philippine government.

“Aragoncillo’s undoing came because of his close involvement with a former Philippines official living in Brooklyn, Michael Ray Aquino, who became a co-defendant with Aragoncillo in the espionage case. While in the OVP, Aragoncillo searched databases, downloaded and printed documents marked Secret and Top Secret, including in one case a U.S. assessment of terrorist threats to United States interests in the Philippines, and then transferred them via email and other methods to senior government officials in the Philippines. He also traveled to the Philippines in 2001 and met with top government officials at the Philippine presidential palace.

“His co-defendant, Aquino – who was wanted in the Philippines for suspicion of involvement in a political murder conspiracy – was arrested in 2005 in Brooklyn on an expired visa. Aragoncillo, who had already had regular contact with Aquino (a middleman in the relaying of information to the Philippines), drew attention to himself by showing up at ICE offices in New York following Aquino’s immigration arrest, and identifying himself as an FBI employee and friend of Aquino. Aragoncillo subsequently called an ICE agent to inquire on the status of the investigation, prompting a suspicious ICE agent to notify the FBI about Aragoncillo’s inquiries.”

Aragoncillo was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to transmit national defense information, transmission of national defense information, unlawful retention of national defense information and unlawful use of a government computer. Aquino was sentenced to 76 months in prison for unlawful possession and retention of documents and information related to the national defense.

Having squared away his debt to American society, the U.S. is now prepared to deport Aquino.

The Philippine press is reporting that two NBI officials are en route to the U.S. to fetch Aquino, who is currently held in a detention facility in New Jersey. U.S. marshals are expected to turn him over to NBI officials. The process to remove him from the U.S. may take anywhere from two to three days.

Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm.


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