‘Middleman’ in P6.4-B shabu says Paolo Duterte just an ‘acquaintance’

Camille Elemia
‘Middleman’ in P6.4-B shabu says Paolo Duterte just an ‘acquaintance’
(UPDATED) Kenneth Dong, the alleged middleman in the P6.4-billion smuggled shabu from China, says he met the presidential son in 2008 but they are 'not close'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – After their photos surfaced online, the alleged middleman in the P6.4-billion smuggled shabu from China denied his close ties with presidential son and Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.

Kenneth Dong said he and Duterte are just “acquaintances,” contrary to reports.

Nagkakilala kami (We met) way back in 2008 because I expanded my first branch of weighing scale in Davao. Acquaintance lang kasi hindi naman kami ganoon ka-close (Just an acquaintance because we’re not that close),” Dong said on Tuesday, August 15, during the 3rd Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the controversy.

Dong is one of the middlemen of Richard Tan, a Chinese national who owns Hongfei Logistics, the importer of the shabu shipment.

During the hearing, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV showed photos of Dong with Vice Mayor Duterte and another presidential son, Sebastian “Baste” Duterte.

Dong downplayed this and said he just likes taking photos in public.

“Mahilig po ako mag-picture sa public. ‘Yan ang problema sa ‘kin kaya naiintriga ako (I like taking pictures in public. That’s the problem with me, that’s why I become subject to intrigues),” Dong said.

Trillanes pointed to a photo of Dong with the Vice Mayor in a wacky shot which, the senator said, seemed to indicate they were more than acquaintances. Dong reiterated that he was not a close friend of the presidential son.

WACKY SHOT. Kenneth Dong (in glasses) with his friends and 'acquaintance' Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte (right). Photo courtesy of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV

SELFIE. Kenneth Dong (right) with presidential son Sebastian 'Baste' Duterte. Photo courtesy of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV

Malacañang earlier called the release of such photos part of “propaganda.

Trillanes then said in Filipino, referring to detained Senator Leila de Lima, “There’s a senator in jail now because of photos.” He was referring to photos of De Lima with alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and his wife in Baguio City sometime during the 2016 campaign, which the detained senator’s critics had used to link her to the drug trade.

‘Hearsay’

Customs broker Mark Tagub earlier said in a House hearing that Vice Mayor Duterte is supposedly part of the “Davao Group” that is involved in smuggling and that has strong ties in the BOC.

During the Senate hearing, Taguba said there are 3 other people in the group, namely “Tita Nane,” “Jack,” and “Small.” Trillanes claimed “Small” is Davao City councilor Small Abellera Jr.

When asked about Paolo Duterte’s role, Taguba said it was “just hearsay” and that he had no personal knowledge on the matter.

Senator Manny Pacquiao, a close Duterte ally, cautioned Taguba against mentioning the presidential son’s name if he had no evidence.

“Kung di ka sigurado, ‘wag mo na sabihin. Kung walang personal knowledge, ‘wag mo na sabihin (If you’re not sure, don’t say it. If you don’t have any personal knowledge, don’t say it),” Pacquiao said.

Trillanes earlier said the brains behind the shabu shipment – the biggest in the country’s history by far – has close links to the government. He, however, refused to name them.

Trillanes showed 2007 documents anew – first released during the 2016 campaign – that showed the vice mayor’s alleged involvement in the smuggling of rice, sugar, used clothes, and expensive cars into his city.

President Rodrigo Duterte said he would resign if there was any evidence against his children’s involvement in corruption.

In Senate hearings in 2016, self-confessed hitman and Davao Death Squad member Edgar Matobato and former police Arturo Lascañas Jr had accused Paolo Duterte of masterminding smuggling and protecting Chinese drug lords – a claim the presidential son denied. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com