Aquino re-sentenced to time served

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (April 1) – It was a meaningless victory. Or perhaps, it could also be called a revolving-door victory.

Former Philippine police officer Michael Ray Beguas Aquino was re-sentenced to time served Tuesday (March 31) but instead of savoring victory by getting freed, he was back locked up in jail again.

Judge William H. Walls of the United States District Court of New Jersey in Newark reduced Aquino’s sentence to time served during re-sentencing. But he was in no mood to celebrate as the U.S. government opposed his motion to call up his former Filipino police officers Glenn Galapon Dumlao and Cesar Ochoco Mancao II to testify in his extradition hearing.

Mr. Aquino, 42, was originally sentenced to 76 months on spying charges by Judge Walls. But his lawyer, Mark A. Berman, was able to convince a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to reduce Aquino’s sentence, vacating the sentence and remanding it for re-sentencing.

The Court of Appeals observed that the U.S. District Court used wrong federal sentencing guidelines in sentencing Aquino for pleading guilty to unauthorized possession and willful retention of two classified documents relating to national defense.

Aquino should have been sentenced ranging from 36 to 46 months.

He obtained those documents from Filipino American, Leandro Aragoncillo, a former U.S. Marine and FBI analyst, who was aide to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

Aragoncillo pleaded guilty to spying charges and did not appeal his 10-year sentence.

He pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy to transmit US secrets, transmitting secrets, unlawful retention of secrets and unlawful use of a government computer.

Aquino has now served more than 41 months of his sentence.

“We are gratified that Judge Walls opted to sentence Mr. Aquino to time served,” according to Mr. Berman. “From the outset, we believed the sentence ultimately imposed was the appropriate sentence.”

Aquino will be kept in custody in the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, New Jersey while he is facing his extradition for the double murder of Filipino publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and Dacer’s driver, Emmanuel Corbito.

It was during the state visit of President Joseph Estrada under the Clinton Administration that Aragoncillo was introduced to the Estrada party.

Then, San Juan Mayor J.V. Ejercito, the son of former President Estrada, introduced Aquino to Aragoncillo “as someone who could help MRA (Michael Ray Aquino) if MRA had problems.”

Estrada, along with his former Philippine police chief turned Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former House of Representatives speaker Arnuflo Fuentebella, were named by US prosecutors as “unindicted co-conspirators” in Aragoncillo’s case.

Aquino, under General Lacson, was implicated by his subordinates Mancao and Dumlao to have ordered the killing of Dacer and Corbito allegedly with clearance from “Malacanang.”

In opposing Aquino’s “emergent petition for writs ad testificandum,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric T. Kanefsky, said the U.S. District Court of New Jersey should reject the presence of Messrs. Dumlao and Mancao at Aquino’s extradition hearing, saying that an extradition proceedings only determine “whether there exists probable cause to believe that the fugitive has committed the crimes charged in the requesting country.”

Kanefsky said an extradition hearing is like a “preliminary hearing.” It must “not be converted into a trial on the merits, and the rules ordinarily applicable in such trials are not used.” Aquino’s opportunities to oppose the request are limited because his defenses will be aired in the requesting country (Philippines).

He explained that Aquino “does not have the right to present evidence in order to attempt to rebut the evidence put forth by the Government.” He cannot obtain the presence of Dumlao and Mancao as “two key witnesses” for the expressed purpose of “obliterating the government’s extradition case.”

“Aquino’s right to controvert evidence introduced against him is limited to testimony, which explains rather than contradicts the demanding country’s proof,” according to the 18-page memorandum of Kanefsky.

It was also added that the fugitive cannot suggest to the court “to look behind the extradition request to the motives of the government of the demanding country,” saying that the court cannot “exercise discretion as to whether the criminal charge is a cloak for political action, nor whether the request is made in good faith.”

Kanefsky said, “in the event that the Court is inclined to grant defendant’s petition to obtain the testimony of Mancao and Dumlao, the Government respectfully requests that the Court order such testimony be obtained prior to May 1, 2009.”

Mancao was issued a certificate of extraditability on March 3, 2009. Mancao will be released if he is not extradited within “two calendar months.”

If depositions are taken from Mancao or Dumlao, they should be done before May 1, 2009, “so that these individuals’ extradition can proceed in a timely manner,” Kanefsky’s memorandum added.

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