POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 26, 2011
MANILA » U.S. authorities have extradited a former Filipino police officer who has served a jail term for illegal possession of classified documents in the United States but was separately sought in the Philippines for charges related to 2000 twin killings, officials said.
A handcuffed Michael Ray Aquino arrived under heavy guard Sunday at Manila's international airport and was whisked by a long security convoy to detention at Manila's National Bureau of Investigation to face charges of his alleged involvement in the November 2000 abductions and killings of a prominent publicist and his driver.
Aquino said in an arrival statement that he was innocent of the killings of Salvador Dacer, a publicist who represented top politicians, and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito.
"I hope that I will be treated fairly and that my rights will be respected," Aquino told the local ABS-CBN TV network on board a Philippine Airlines flight to Manila.
Asked if he would help identify the mastermind in the killings, Aquino said he could not because he never was aware of the crime. He added that he has bittersweet feelings about returning home after a decade-long absence and that he made the decision to prove his innocence and return to a normal life.
Dacer and Corbito were snatched from a Manila street on Nov. 24, 2000. They were found strangled the following year in a creek bed in Cavite Province south of Manila. Their bodies had been doused with gasoline and burned. Investigators identified their corpses using dental records.
Dacer's clients included ousted President Joseph Estrada, who has also denied any hand in the publicist's murder. There have been speculations that Estrada and Dacer had an unspecified feud prior to the slayings.
At least two witnesses alleged that members of an elite police unit, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, which was then headed by Philippine national police chief Panfilo Lacson, was responsible for the slayings. Aquino was the operations chief of the anti-crime unit at the time of the killings.
Lacson, now a senator, was implicated in the killings but denied any involvement. Lacson hid for more than a year and returned to the Philippines last March after a Manila court voided a warrant for his arrest.
Aquino traveled to the United States in 2001 after being implicated in the killings. He settled with his wife and son in New York, where he studied to be a nurse to start a new life.
American authorities, however, arrested him in 2005 due to an unrelated espionage case where he was accused of illegally accepting classified U.S. secret documents about Philippine politics from a former Philippine-born U.S. Marine, who once worked as an aide to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney.
Prosecutors alleged the documents were stolen as part of a plot to overthrow Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who took over Estrada in 2001.
Aquino pleaded guilty in 2006 to possessing secret documents and was sentenced to a 76-month U.S. federal prison term, which was later reduced by federal judge due to time served by Aquino. He remained in detention, however, while fighting a Philippine government extradition bid in relation to the Manila killings.
Aquino lost his battle against extradition and was turned over by U.S. officials last week to two Philippine officials, who escorted him back to Manila.