Spy Case Implicates Former Philippines Police Chief

A Filipino political leader who admits receiving information from accused spy Leandro Aragoncillo, a former administrative chief of Vice President Cheney's security detail, has spent years fighting off legal charges of murder, corruption and human rights abuses, according to the Filipino online media.

Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, a member of the Philippine senate and an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2004, said he received "shallow information" from Aragoncillo earlier this year. He denies any wrongdoing.

The allegations against Aragoncillo, a former FBI intelligence analyst, and Michael Ray Aquino, a former Philippine national police official and ex-aide to Lacson, have been front page news in the Philippines since their arrest in New Jersey on Sept. 10. The Daily Inquirer, long critical of Lacson, has reported that the documents included information about a possible military coup against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is battling charges of corruption and vote fraud.

Lacson, a former national police chief, is a leader in efforts to force Arroyo from office. He and Aquino have a controversial record in Filipino politics. In the 1990s, Lacson served as the chief of the now defunct Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) in the 1990s. Aquino was the comission's top inspector. A 1995 study by the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism said PACC's law enforcement efforts "left a trail of bungled cases and bloody corpses."

Lacson and Aquino were implicated in five bank robberies and a notorious 1995 massacre of 11 members of a Manila gang, according to PCIJ. A legal case against them and 32 other police officers was dismissed in 2003.

In 2001, the Daily Inquirer published interviews with columnist Ramon Tulfo, a former friend of Lacson's, who linked him to robbery, murder, drugs and money laundering. In a separate interview Lacson said Tulfo's allegations were "deliberately twisted."

In 2003, Lacson was convicted of human rights abuses while serving as an intelligence officer in the Philippines armed forces in the 1980s. Last December a judge ordered the case reheard, according to the Manila Times.

The Web site of Lacson's  political organization, Be Not Afraid, dedicates 12 pages to rebutting "lies" from his critics.

The site has also taken up Aquino's defense describing him as a "patriot" and  a "respected member" of Be Not Afraid. The site now opens with a letter from Aquino's wife asserting his innocence. It also includes a statement from Aquino's lawyer denying that his client directed Aragoncillo's efforts or knew that the documents he passed along were classified.

Aragoncillo and Aquino have been charged with conspiracy, acting as unregistered foreign agents of a foreign official and passing classified information to that official. The Justice Department says Aragoncillo downloaded 101 classified records from an FBI computer, including 37 "Top secret" documents, and that Aquino passed along the information to three unnamed Filipino political figures. Lacson, a former national police chief, told The Washington Post's Alan Sipress that he expects to be named as one of the recipients of the information.

The Post reports that Aragoncillo is now cooperating with prosecutors while Aquino is not.

As a member of the Philippine senate, Lacson has both opposed and supported the Bush administration's policies, according to new reports.

In April 2004 he demanded President Arroyo withdraw Filipino troops from Iraq, according to the Philippine News. In September 2004, the Manila Times reported that Lacson advocated relaxing a ban on Filipino workers in Iraq to allow "selective deployment of workers in places which are considered safe, which is exactly the position of the US government."

By Jefferson Morley |  October 6, 2005; 2:38 PM ET  | Category:  Asia
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