KORONADAL, (Philippines), Oct 7 (AFP):Philippines President Gloria Arroyo Friday heaped scorn on her critics, calling them "robbers" and "coup plotters" after the United States detained a man who allegedly stole classified material that found its way to her foes.
"You've all read the papers," Arroyo told local officials in this southern city, referring to reports on the arrest of Filipino-born Leandro Aragoncillo, an ex-US Marine accused of stealing documents from US Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the FBI.
Press reports have said the documents allegedly stolen by Aragoncillo, a 46-year-old naturalized American, were unfavorable to Arroyo and were passed on to opponents who were attempting to stage a coup.
"I thank the US government that on the day I landed in New York in September (to attend a UN Security Council summit), they arrested and exposed the robbers of classified information generated by US institutions," Arroyo said.
"Now these coup plotters and robbers of classified information are trying to cover up for their misdeeds," she said.
"Imagine? They are even prepared to go to the extent of destroying Philippine-American relations just to serve their ambitions for power. But they have been caught."
Aragoncillo was arrested in New Jersey last month along with a former Philippine police official, Michael Ray Aquino, and accused of downloading more than 100 classified documents from FBI computers.
Aquino had allegedly acted as an intermediary for Aragoncillo in transmitting the classified information to Filipino opposition figures to be used in their efforts to unseat Arroyo.
Some of the opposition leaders who have admitted receiving information from Aquino distanced themselves from the ex-soldier on Friday, instead questioning why the United States had gathered information on Philippine politicians.
Several opposition leaders, including deposed president Joseph Estrada, previously said they received information from Aquino.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who lost to Arroyo in the 2004 elections, denied ever receiving information from Aragoncillo. He said he only obtained data from Aquino, his former protege.
Lacson, a former police commander of Aquino's, said he did not know if the information he received came from Aragoncillo, adding that it did not look like like confidential information.
He remarked that it simply contained reports on the situation in the Philippines, "similar to what could be read in the newspapers."
House of Representatives member Roilo Golez, another critic of Arroyo, said he did not know of any information from Aragoncillo, remarking that Aquino only sent him "personal e-mails".
"We should ask, is the US spying on the Philippines? Why the dossiers on Philippine political leaders?" asked Golez.
In recent months, the Philippine opposition has been stepping up its efforts to force Arroyo out of office, accusing her of cheating to win the May 2004 elections and other misdeeds.
However Arroyo allies in Congress quashed an impeachment complaint against her last month.