[OPINION] Valentine’s gift from Willy Keng

There's a new twist to the Keng story

What a wonder to behold – the global outburst of protectiveness for Maria Ressa on the eve of Valentine’s Day.

Journalist Maria is not only a Time Person of the Year. Her friends love her brilliant “nose for news,” her sense of history, her courage in stories arming the public to defend itself from the hidden shapes and sizes of evil in this sad old world. 

Now here she was, arrested for cyber libel past the hour to post bail by a National Bureau of Investigation team that stopped a staffer from recording their Rappler executive editor’s arrest on an iPhone. Two instant statements from two nationalist lawyers called the arrest unconstitutional – the law for which Ressa was arrested hadn’t even been passed yet when she supposedly committed the “cybercrime.”

After a restive night imagining Maria in NBI detention under a director known as a member of the Davao Death Squad, Corito Fiel in Canada, Ninotchka Rosca in New York, and I in Manila converged on Facebook early Valentine’s morning, asking, who is this Wilfredo Keng? Why is he doing this?

When Corito mentioned Century Peak mining, I googled “Wilfred Keng + Century Peak” and found gold – or rather, nickel. That was what Keng’s Century Peak Corporation (CPC) was mining in Dinagat Islands off Surigao, said a MindaNews story just below Keng’s business profile. He had no tree-cutting permit, an inventory of trees destroyed by mining, or a foreshore lease for CPC’s causeway, the story said. 

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) regional director for Caraga, Roger de Dios, barred Keng’s CPC from transporting and shipping ore because it had “not complied” with “social and environmental commitments” since 2015. Earlier records showed the MGB warning Keng many times for violations since 2013, the story continued.

Is this why De Dios was put on floating status, replaced by his boss while Keng’s nickel-mining CPC was left scot-free when then-environment secretary Gina Lopez ordered 47 mining companies suspended? Lopez herself lost her appointment in the Commission on Appointments populated by mega-millionaire miners.

Beyond that, CPC and its affiliates hold mineral rights over 17 properties in the Philippines, with a combined total area of 27,170 hectares, its website said. Now actively mining or exploring for chromite, nickel, and iron in Zambales, Zamboanga, and Sibuyan, Romblon, CPC also has prospects for gold, copper, iron, and manganese in Palawan, Surigao, Agusan, Zamboanga, and Misamis Oriental. CPC also owns real estate in Leyte where a smelting plant will be installed for nickel pig iron production.

So, besides islands, government integrity, and press freedom, was this nationalized Chinese-Filipino Keng messing with anything else?

Now came a tip from a growing audience for our public media conversation. It led to a Philippine Star newspaper series reporting Keng as the prime suspect in the killing of his former associate, Chika Go, in 2002. After 3 years of death threats, it was a second attempt on the life of this Manila councilor, architect, and engineer, said his wife. 

Found in the late Go’s files were notes on the earlier murder of Paulo Patacsil, a Board of Investments employee investigating Keng for smuggling fake cigarettes and anomalously granting a special investors residence visa to Chinese nationals for a fee.

Philippine Star’s reporting has been an invaluable step to national awareness. Now they, too, have been threatened, like Maria Ressa for Rappler’s mention of Keng’s undue influence on the late chief justice Renato Corona. 

PhilStar Global, a website associated with the Philippine Star newspaper, has taken down a 2002 story on Keng that linked him to murder, explaining that they await clearer definition of the nature and punishment for cybercrime. (Editor’s Note: Philstar Global and Philippine Star newspaper are owned by two separate companies.)

Meanwhile, Maria Ressa stands in firm fighting stance in the face of Keng’s continued threats supported by Duterte’s officials. 

New twist

A new twist just arrived, however – a revelation in a Facebook post found by another colleague, which points to Keng as being a supposed associate of Huang Rulun, one of the main donors of the drug rehabilitation facility inaugurated by President Duterte in Nueva Ecija. Rulun was investigated by China in 2017 for alleged bribery. 

Rulun was reported to partnered with the construction company represented by Willy Keng, based on a Freedom of Information request to the Philippine government. “Major news outlets have yet to report on this, but Keng is quite close to Rulun and the PRC officials. If this allegation is true, the implications are earthshaking,” wrote a friend.

“Is this why Justice Secretary Guevarra is pushing through with the prosecution of this case against Maria Ressa/Rappler?” asked my colleague Tina Cuyugan on Facebook. “And Duterte is sending a European roadshow just to explain to Western media that Keng’s case against Ressa has nothing to do with press freedom?” I added.

Yes, this is a totally new slant to statements defending Philippine press freedom by Philippine and world media, civil society, and world leaders.

With the Filipino-Chinese set to reclaim hundreds of hectares in Manila Bay, are we also looking at Duterte’s surrender of the West Philippine Sea this bay faces, and with it, Philippine sovereignty? – Rappler.com

Sylvia L. Mayuga is a veteran feature writer and columnist in Manila, with 3 National Book Awards to her name.