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Estrada Says He Was Given U.S. Document

Former U.S. Marine Leandro Aragoncillo is charged with stealing classified documents.
Former U.S. Marine Leandro Aragoncillo is charged with stealing classified documents. (Abc News Via Reuters)

U.S. investigators have said the documents were sent to a former high-level Philippine official and two current high-level Philippine officials but have not identified them. All are opposition politicians seeking to topple President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who replaced Estrada after he was forced from office over accusations that he enriched himself off gambling kickbacks.

Estrada, once a popular movie star, is one of several Philippine politicians who have acknowledged receiving documents from the two suspects. Another, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, who unsuccessfully challenged Arroyo in presidential elections a year ago, said in an interview last week that he had obtained e-mails from Aquino but that they were neither sensitive nor unusual.

Estrada said in the interview that he had a close relationship with Aquino, even accompanying him to the altar at Aquino's wedding seven years ago. Estrada said they have not been in contact in recent years.

Aquino left the Philippines for the United States in July 2001. At the time, he was under indictment in the Philippines for involvement in the kidnapping and murder of a public relations executive who had quarreled with Estrada, and the man's driver.

Estrada also spoke warmly of Aragoncillo, calling him a friend and recounting their first meeting during the 2000 White House visit. Estrada told reporters at the time that Clinton "introduced me to each of the 21 Filipino staff at the White House like they were part of his family, which, in turn, made me very proud."

Soon afterward, Aragoncillo came to Manila and visited the presidential palace with his wife to meet Estrada, Estrada recalled.

In 2001, Estrada was unseated by mass demonstrations that erupted when an effort to impeach him broke down in the Philippine Congress. Estrada was detained and later that year incarcerated in the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Manila, where he remained until 2003. He said Aragoncillo visited him in the hospital and joined him for lunch. The former president said a personal bond had been established.

"He still has that Filipino heart," Estrada said, noting that Aragoncillo came from a relatively poor family. "He knows I am a president who was pro-poor, and he is pro-poor. That's why he was so worried about what's happening in our country today."

Since the final meeting, Estrada said he has spoken with Aragoncillo once or twice by telephone, most recently last year.

"It was to say hello, talk about what was happening in the Philippines and what was happening in Iraq," Estrada recounted. "He told me what was happening in Iraq."

When he learned last month that Aragoncillo had been charged with illegally providing classified information to Philippine officials, Estrada said he was shocked. He said he did not believe the former Marine had done anything illegal or worked to help opposition politicians in the Philippines.

Aragoncillo was honorably discharged from the Marines with the rank of gunnery sergeant and went to work a year ago as an FBI analyst at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Federal investigators allege he used his top-secret clearance to download classified documents from the FBI, CIA and State Department relating to his birthplace and conspired with Aquino to forward the material by e-mail, telephone and text message.

Eggen reported from Washington. Correspondent Ellen Nakashima in Jakarta and researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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