Ex-adviser Michael Yang hosts private lunch for Duterte in China

Pia Ranada
Ex-adviser Michael Yang hosts private lunch for Duterte in China
Only select Philippine officials are invited to lunch at a roast duck restaurant, an activity which does not appear on President Duterte's official China schedule

Controversial former economic adviser Michael Yang hosted a Peking duck lunch for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on the first day of his August trip to China, showing the Chinese national continues to enjoy access to the leader.

Two sources in Beijing told Rappler that the lunch took place at a branch of Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant on Thursday, August 29, the day after Duterte and members of his delegation arrived in China. Senator Bong Go, Duterte’s longtime aide, later on confirmed this to reporters. He was present at the lunch too.

Duterte seems to enjoy the Dadong food chain since a Dadong branch was also the venue of a lunch hosted for him by Chinese businessmen during his first visit to China as president, in October 2016. Yang had also been present then.

Only select members of the Cabinet and Philippine delegation were invited to the gathering, said the source. Aside from Go, also present was Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua.

Who is Yang and why is he able to invite Duterte to lunch?

Yang is a Chinese citizen with business interests in the Philippines and whom Duterte has known since he was Davao City mayor. His name made headlines earlier this year when an ex-cop accused Yang of links to drug syndicates and claimed Duterte ignored an intelligence report on Yang.

Yang and Duterte maintained their ties in 2015 as Duterte was mulling a presidential bid. That year, he paid his friend Yang a visit in Xiamen where the businessman’s company headquarters is located. Weeks later, Duterte declared his intention to run for president.

During his presidency, Duterte named Yang his “economic adviser,” based on contracts from Malacañang obtained by Rappler. This, despite Duterte saying Yang could not hold such a position because “he is a Chinese.”

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo has not responded to Rappler’s query about the lunch with Yang.

But the lunch was not in Duterte’s official schedule of activities. Based on this schedule, his first event on Thursday was supposed to be the bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the evening.

Panelo, asked if Duterte had activities before the bilateral meeting, told Rappler there were “private meetings.”

Large chunks of Duterte’s China schedule sent to media are empty. On Friday, his first official event of the day begins late in the afternoon. A sparse schedule had also been the case in his October 2016 first visit to China.

Duterte’s other companions

The President brought with him more companions than is indicated in the official delegation sent by Malacañang.

The official delegation is composed of 11 Cabinet members, but also spotted in China were Special Envoy for Public Diplomacy to China Ramon Tulfo and senators Bong Go and Ronald dela Rosa.

The last two are neophyte senators who won big in the May 2019 elections, largely due to their close association with Duterte. Go was Duterte’s longtime aide while Dela Rosa was Duterte’s first police chief.

Dela Rosa had led Duterte’s controversial Oplan Tokhang, or the controversial knock-and-plead anti-drug campaign that human rights groups have blamed for thousands of killings.

Tulfo, meanwhile, has his own connections with Chinese businessmen, including Jose Kho, a real-estate tycoon who founded the Friends of the Philippines Foundation (FPF).

The group has made donations to the Duterte administration, including a drug rehabilitation facility in Bukidnon. Kho himself donated funds for a Fujian Normal University program, “Soledad College,” providing scholarships to Filipino students. Kho’s son heads a corporation seeking major reclamation projects in Manila. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.