MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday defended his former economic adviser Michael Yang, who reportedly has ties to the Philippine government’s biggest supplier of medical goods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duterte said Yang, a Davao-based Chinese businessman, often accompanied former Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua in their meetings. The President said Yang also introduced him to acquaintances in China.
"Kaya bakit ako magduda, bakit ako magsabi na drug lord siya?" Duterte said, reviving allegations linking Yang to alleged drug syndicates.
(So why will I doubt, why will I say that he is a drug lord?)
"Kaibigan ako ang China, sasabihin sa akin ang totoo. Kaya hindi makakapasok 'yang mga 'yan kung sasabihin n'yo nagdodroga."
(I am a friend of China, it will tell me the truth. That is why they cannot enter here if you say that they are into drugs.)
Malacañang in 2019 said Yang was no longer Duterte's economic adviser, after the trader's post was questioned when former police official Eduardo Acierto linked him to the illegal drug trade.
Yang reportedly has ties with local firm Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp, which bagged some P8.68 billion worth of deals for pandemic response last year.
Pharmally is supposedly linked to Yang’s network through one of its owners, Singaporean Huang Tzu Yen, who sits as a director in another company, along with 2 other associates of Yang.
A Malacanang video also showed Yang introducing Duterte to Pharmally officials.
Senators had questioned why Pharmally - a company incorporated in 2019 with a P599,000 capital - was awarded billions-worth of government contracts when it had no track record of delivering quality and reasonably-priced materials.
A Senate Blue Ribbon inquiry is looking into the government's pandemic spending following reports of deficiencies by government auditors.
The President said Yang started out his business in Davao about 2 decades ago.
"Michael Yang has been in business here in the Philippines for 20 years. Nag-umpisa 'yan sa Davao...Akala ko ba we are inviting investors?" he said.
(He started in Davao...I thought we were inviting investors?)
"Tanungin ninyo ang mga taga-Davao ng tindahan niya pati sino 'yan."
(Ask Davao residents about his store and who he is.)
Last week, Duterte claimed senators were playing politics in their investigations on corruption in government.
Duterte in his latest speech singled out Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, for his alleged “nasty habit” of depriving others the chance to ask questions in hearings.
He accused the senator of "Sinophobia" for focusing on Yang's alleged involvement in Pharmally.
He also made comments about the lawmaker's weight and the hairstyle of Gordon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Video courtesy of PTV