NEWARK, NEW JERSEY?A federal judge on Tuesday reduced the sentence of a former Philippine National Police (PNP) officer who three years ago pleaded guilty to receiving classified US government documents.
Former Senior Supt. Michael Ray Aquino, however, still faces a court battle over whether he will have to return to the Philippines to face charges in connection with the Dacer-Corbito double murders.
Aquino, 42, has been in prison since his arrest in 2005 for accepting the documents from Leandro Aragoncillo, a Filipino-American and former US Marine who once worked as an aide to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney.
Prosecutors alleged that the documents, which reached Aquino from May to August 2005, were stolen as part of a plot to overthrow the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In July 2006, Aquino pleaded guilty to unauthorized possession of US defense documents to avoid the heavier espionage charge which is punishable by life imprisonment.
A year later, he was sentenced to six years and four months in prison, but a federal appeals court ruled in February that the trial court misapplied sentencing guidelines, and ordered him re-sentenced.
US District Judge William Walls on Tuesday reduced the sentence to three years and 10 months, or about the time Aquino has served, counting credit for good behavior.
He will remain in US custody, however, until the extradition case is resolved.
Charged since 2001
Aquino and two other former PNP officers are charged in the Philippines in connection with the abduction and murder of publicist Salvador ?Bubby? Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in November 2000.
The Philippines? Department of Justice filed double murder charges against Aquino at the Manila Regional Trial Court in September 2001. It has since sought Aquino?s extradition.
Mark Berman, a lawyer for Aquino, filed papers last week in an attempt to stop the two other officers, former Senior Supt. Cezar Mancao II and former Supt. Glenn Dumlao, from being deported so that they might be called to testify at an extradition hearing.
No confrontation in US
A US magistrate also delayed an extradition hearing for Aquino last week to give attorneys time to file briefs and line up witnesses.
Mancao and Dumlao, who are also being held in the United States, have said Aquino ordered them to commit the two killings, according to the US attorney?s office. Berman has called the prosecution politically motivated.
The US government opposes Aquino?s attempt to confront the two men in court, arguing that the extradition law doesn?t give him the right to do so.
?Aquino will have every opportunity to make such defenses, but in a court of law in the Philippines, not here,? the government argued.
Aquino fled to the United States to escape the murder charges in 2001, authorities say, and lived with his wife and son in New York City.
Lacson, Estrada got papers
It was while in the United States that Aquino received the classified documents from Aragoncillo, a former FBI intelligence analyst who worked at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.
Aragoncillo pleaded guilty to passing the documents to Aquino and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Arrested in New York in September 2005, Aquino was found to have transmitted the documents to President Macapagal-Arroyo?s political enemies, including Sen. Panfilo Lacson, his former boss at the PNP, and deposed President Joseph Estrada.
The documents also contained information on the intelligence sources and methods of the United States, as well as information on terrorist threats to US military personnel in the Philippines. Associated Press with a report from Cyril L. Bonabente, Inquirer Research, in Manila