Former Philippine Officer Gets More Than 6 Years for Role in Espionage Plot

A former Philippine National Police officer was sentenced Tuesday to six years and four months in prison for his role in a plot in which he obtained secret U.S. documents in an effort to undermine the Philippine government.

Michael Ray 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.

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 U.S. military personnel in the Philippines.

Recipients included former President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted six years ago; Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the leader of the Arroyo opposition party; and former House Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, according to court documents.

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

Aquino was once a senior officer under Lacson in the Philippines National Police. He fled to the United States to escape murder charges in 2001 and lived with his wife and son in New York City. After serving his prison term, he is likely to be deported.

He has been in federal custody since he and Leandro Aragoncillo were arrested in September 2005. Aragoncillo is a former Marine who worked as a military aide to vice presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney before becoming an FBI intelligence analyst. He is to be sentenced Wednesday.

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, he faces 15 to 20 years in prison. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in the Philippines.

Prosecutors said Aragoncillo, who entered 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 Arroyo.