MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, October 9, denied appointing Chinese businessman Michael Yang as his presidential economic adviser.
"Cannot be, because he is a Chinese," said Duterte, when asked to confirm reports that Yang was a presidential economic adviser.
Despite Duterte's denial, Yang has an office that proclaims him as "Presidential Adviser for Economic Affairs," according to photos in www.opea.com.ph website. "OPEA" appears to stand for "Office of the Presidential Economic Adviser."
A source had also told Rappler that Yang hands out business cards with the Malacañang seal.
While Duterte denied formally appointing Yang, it's clear that the Chinese businessman enjoys enviable access to the Chief Executive.
Yang joined Duterte in his lunch with the Friends of the Philippines Foundation back during his state visit to Beijing in October 2016. He has also been present at meetings of Chinese businessmen with Duterte in Malacañang.
Yang has hosted Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade in his office as "presidential adviser."
Three sources had told Rappler Yang was a Chinese citizen. Duterte said he first met Yang some 16 years ago in Davao City where the businessman has many enterprises, including the Davao City Los Amigos (DCLA) chain of stores.
Duterte first mentioned Yang in public when he claimed the businessman had close ties to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua. The envoy even sleeps at Yang's home in Davao City, said the President.
During the Tuesday news conference, Duterte reiterated that Yang was part of the entourage of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang who was in Manila in November last year.
In a speech before Philippine Military Academy alumni on October 4, Duterte cleared Yang of drug allegations. Duterte had said there was supposedly a "dossier" on Yang in which police claimed he was a "drug addict" or a "drug pusher," but Duterte belied the allegations by citing his close ties with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
Duterte on Tuesday again stressed Yang's close ties with the Chinese envoy to clear him. The President also warned police who, he alleged, were targetting Yang just to extort money from him.
Yang did not respond to Rappler's request for comment on the President's statements. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.