In nine months, Joselito Casilana Azurin has gone from the Philippine government's top diplomatic post in Australia to cleaning homes in the Washington suburbs, to Cell D-4, Room No. 7 of the Arlington County Jail.
And his travels may not be over.
After 33 days behind gray-painted bars, Azurin-who is charged with embezzling $81,000 from the Philippine government while in Australia-insists that he is there because of what he believes and not because of any crime he committed.
The 38-year-old diplomat, who last August renounced the government of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and sought asylum in the United States, claims the charges are concocted by a vengeful regime intent on intimidating other potential defectors. State Department sources and Australian officials, however, claim that Azurin, a diplomat who studied international relations at Oxford, is simply a politically astute embezzler. They say he is using international criticism of the Marcos government, which has been accused of torturing political opponents, as a smokescreen for a nonpolitical crime.
While her husband awaits a hearing on his extradition back to australia, Norma Azurin, who remains with their five children in a rented three-bedroom McLean house, continues by herself to clean neighborhood homes to support the family.
"Our family is not beggars," said Norma Azurin, herself a former diplomatic aide. "I was used to a driver and a maid. What our maids did for us, we are doing for other people. The first house I cleaned, I was crying."
Norma Azurin, 36, a strong-willed woman who compares the Marcos government to the murderous regime of deposed Ugandan leader Idi Amin, says she supports her children on her $5-an-hour cleaning wage and on donations from friends and Philippine sympathizers.
When the family run low on money, Azurin and his wife said they turned to the only work they could find that allowed them to stay close to their children - house cleaning.They printed up fliers, which told potential customers to "feel free. . . to call Joe and Norma. . . at any time." They traveled around McLean in a donated 1968 Ford Station wagon typically cleaning two houses a day while the children were in school.
"It was degrading to me," said Azurin. But he said that the money was fairly good, $60 to $80 a day between them, and that many people paid them more than they earned out of sympathy for their children.
The Azurins' cleaning effort ended on April 7 when U.S. Marshals arrested Azurin under the terms of the United States-Australian Extradition Treaty, and place him under arrest without bail pending an extradition haering. A date for that hearing has not been set.
Mrs. Azurin said she did not have a hint that her husband had planned to defect until he called her from Los Angeles on Aug. 3. She was in Canberra, Australia, and she thought he had taken a two-day trip to Manila.
The day after the phone call, Norma Azurin said she hurriedly "distributed" her children, ranging in age from 5 to 13 years old, around Australia "to divert the minds" of Philippine agents in that country.
Two children were placed with friends in Melbourne, two in Geelong and one in Sidney. "For five months every weekend, I flew around Australia under a different name to see my kids," Azurin said.
In December, under diplomatic passports, the family flew to the United States and was reunited in Washington. They move in March to a $450-a-months rent in advance with what they say were their savings.
Azurin is charged with pocketing a check for $81,000 that the Philippine government had overpaid on a shipment of Australian wheat. Papers filed by the Australian authorities in federal court in Alexandria allege that Azurin used the money to buy traveler's checks about two months before he entered the United States and requested political asylum - a request the State Department still is considering.
"We are seeking extradition because Azurin has commited an offense against the Australian government," said Kevin McDonald, a consul at the Australian Embassy.
State Department sources discount Azurin's claim of political persecuful servant in the Marcos government, even after martial law was declared seven years ago. They say he changed his views only when he came to the United States.
Azurin claims he wanted to join anti-Marcos rebels in 1972, but did not because he feared for his children and wife.
State Department experts on the Philippines allow, however, that bribery and kickbacks have been commonplace in wheat dealings of the Philippine government.
According to Raul C. Manglapus, a former Philippine foreign minister living in Washington who is president of the Movement for a Free Philippines, the corrupt trading tradition made it "very easy [for the Marcus government] to manipulate figures to throw suspicion on Azurin."
The Marcos government in the past, according to Manglapus, has trumped up embezzlement charges against other defectors. Ruperto Baliao, acting Philippine consul general in San Francisco, defected to the United States in 1973, calling Marcos a "new Hitler." He was tried and convicted in absentia by Philippine courts for financial irregularities.
Manglapus, whose organization has helped raise about $13,000 in a defense fund for Azurin, said that even assuming Azurin is guilty of some crime "he cannot receive justice at the hands of the Philippine government."
While the Australian Embassy refuses to comment on the possibility that Azurin could be sent to the Philippines following a trial in Australia, Manglapus claims it is likely.
In the Arlington jail, where Azurin spends his time in a cramped cell writing impassioned letters to newspapers about his "political crucifixition" and reading the Bible, the former diplomant claims that he is terrified at the prospect of having to return to his homeland.
"The government there would make it appear that I had tried to escape from prison. My body would be found riddled with bullet holes, but first they would torture me. The government would attribute my death to Communist rebels," Azurin said.
Azurin says he is lucky to be in an American jail and that he would prefer to stay there than take his chances going back to the Philippines.
The Australian government, under the extradition treaty, has 12 more days in which to show that Azurin should be tried in Australia. Extradition can be denied by the United States if Azurin's lawyers show his prosecution is being sought for "an offense of a political character." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Joselito Casilana Azurin, left, stands in Doorway of Cell D-4, Room No. 7 in the Arlington County Jail. The ex-diplomat's wife, Norma, below, supports five children on $5-an-hour cleaning wages and donations. Photos by James M. Thresher-The Washington Post; Picture 3, The Azurin family at home, from left, Jennifer 11; Jeremy, 13, Jo-Jo, 9; Mrs. Azurin; James, 8, and Jane, 5. By James M. Tresher-The Washington Post