More proof needed to shake Duterte's trust in Michael Yang – Panelo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Malacañang remains unconvinced that presidential economic adviser Michael Yang is involved in illegal drugs, despite a report from law enforcement agencies of the Chinese national's suspicious activities.

Without more proof, President Rodrigo Duterte's "trust and confidence remains," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Tuesday, March 26, durng a Palace news briefing.

Malacañang puts much weight on Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua's association with Yang as evidence of his supposed innocence.

"The fact alone that you are ambassador to China and your government is against [the] illegal drug industry, how can you be associating yourself with somebody you know to be involved in drugs? Obviously, talagang hindi siya involved (Yang isn't really involved)," said Panelo.

Duterte had previously declared Yang innocent of any involvement in illegal drugs. Dismissed cop Eduardo Acierto recently bared to media that Duterte and the Philippine National Police ignored an intelligence report detailing the supposed links of Yang and another Chinese national, Allan Lim, to illegal drugs.

Panelo, on Tuesday, questioned Acierto's motives, saying the ex-cop "wants to get back" after Duterte released a "declassified report" alleging that Acierto was into "drug recycling" and extorting from Chinese nationals.

The Palace spokesman said the burden is on law enforcement agencies to provide further "validation" of Yang's supposed links. If the Palace is satisfied with such proof, charges would be filed against the presidential adviser.

"Charges will be filed against him if that is validated.... We're (Malacañang) waiting for the validation of any allegation on involvement," said Duterte's spokesman.

'Ends of the earth'

Panelo then insisted on Duterte's hardline stance against illegal drugs, in response to critics who say the President appears to be shielding Yang.

"This President will not tolerate anyone regardless of stature or relationship with him if he is involved in drugs.... He will go to the ends of the earth to put them behind bars," said Panelo.

The Duterte administration, since day one, has had to parry accusations that it targets impoverished communities and small fry in the drug trade while letting "big fish" or wealthy drug lords get away.

Yang, a wealthy Chinese businessman, enjoys strong ties with both Chinese and Philippine government officials. An exclusive Rappler report bared his contracts with Malacañang as presidential economic adviser, a position Duterte initially denied he had given Yang.

The most recent contract showed Yang's term ended on December 31, 2018, which was confirmed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Tuesday. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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