When businessman Kenneth Dong sets foot at the Senate on Wednesday, it will be familiar territory.
Dong, well known in the corridors of power, is one of several people subpoenaed by the Blue Ribbon Committee investigating P6.4 billion worth of smuggled methamphetamine or "shabu" seized by the Bureau of Customs last May.
He was identified by witness Mark Taguba as the "middleman" of Chinese businessman Richard Tan. Tan's company in China, Hong Fei, consolidated the goods to be shipped to Manila, Taguba said. The goods were delivered to Tan's warehouse in Valenzuela where authorities found 604 kilos of shabu.
It's unclear what, exactly, Dong's role is in all this. But the alleged "middleman" is clearly no ordinary man.
By many accounts, Dong frequented the Senate between 2010 and 2014, dropping by senators' offices to say hello, inviting staff to lunch, making friends with them on Facebook, donating raffle prizes to parties and contributing to fund raisers.
But he could be generous in other ways.
Statements of Contributions and Expenditures show Dong, also known as Dong Yi Shan Xi and Yi Shan Dong, contributed to the campaign of Risa Hontiveros twice. He donated P3 million in 2013 and P5 million in 2016.
Dong also contributed P3 million to then-TESDA Director General Joel Villanueva's campaign in 2016.
Hontiveros and Villanueva are senators today.
Dong was popular enough that he managed to gather an entourage of prominent personalities for his wedding on November 9, 2013—a day after Super Typhoon Yolanda hit the country.
Apart from Hontiveros, the wedding sponsors included officials who occupy elective positions today: Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan; Senator Miguel “Migz” Zubiri; and Surigao del Sur Representative Johnny Pimentel.
Former Customs Deputy Commissioner Danny Lim and Senator Ralph Recto were also wedding sponsors, although Recto failed to make it on the day itself.
Face to face with Ninongs, Ninang
As the Blue Ribbon Committee resumes its probe, Dong could come face to face with his godfathers, godmother and recipients of campaign contributions.
Hontiveros and Zubiri are currently members of the Blue Ribbon Committee, while Recto is an ex-officio member.
Villanueva is not a member but has been attending hearings. Any member of the chamber can attend proceedings, but only members can sign the committee report.
“Tell the truth”
But Hontiveros, Villanueva, Pangilinan, Zubiri and Recto all said they barely know Dong.
They had one thing to say to him: tell the truth.
Hontiveros said she received a text message from Dong last week. "I said, mabuti kung haharap sya sa Blue Ribbon para sagutin yung mga seryosong tanong," she said.
"Speak the truth at the Blue Ribbon hearing," Recto said.
"We believe those wrongly accused should be absolved and those guilty be held to account, regardless of who they are," Pangilinan said.
Villanueva said he is willing to inhibit from the investigation, if asked. But he would rather participate as he wants to get to the bottom of the controversy. "Come out and clear your name. Maraming nadadamay na I’m sure innocent officials because he loves taking pictures with us."
Zubiri is the only one who considers Dong a friend. "If he broke the law, then without fear or favor, friend or not, the law must be implemented," he said.
But Pimentel raised the possibility that Dong was a victim in all this. “As far as I know, he is a legitimate businessman,” Pimentel said.
Lim said the same, adding that Dong never asked for favors when he was Deputy Commissioner at the Bureau of Customs. “Wala naman syang record na masama, baka nadamay lang o ginamit ang pangalan.”
Rise from obscurity
The 33-year-old Dong’s rise from obscurity the past decade is impressive. He started by selling industrial weighing scales, then opened a construction business, and now owns a “luxury super club" in Cebu.
Up until Thursday last week, the internet was replete with photos of Dong hobnobbing with celebrities and politicians at parties and events. By Friday, many of the photos were taken down.
In a text message to ABS-CBN, Dong said he intends to clear his name at Wednesday’s hearing. He said he would never be involved in drugs. “May takot ako sa ating Presidente at mas lalong may takot ako sa Diyos!” he said.
The Senate will be full of faces familiar to Dong. Only this time, those faces may not be as friendly.