This column focuses on the Duterte administration’s handling of two cases: that of Yang Hong Ming, also known as Michael Yang, a Davao-based Chinese businessman; and that of Leila de Lima, senator of the Philippines. The common denominators in these two cases: drug-related and President Duterte.
President Duterte, without any investigation, first implicated Sen. Leila de Lima as a drug lord, with six others, when he produced a “drug matrix” less than two months into his presidency. He then proclaimed that with this matrix, De Lima was finished. “Tapos ka na. Sunod na eleksyon.” Nothing was said about where he got this matrix—no mention of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), or the Philippine National Police (PNP). Interestingly, he subsequently removed four of those included in the matrix (the Baraan brothers, Rep. Amado Espino Jr. and an aide).
Only after he pronounced De Lima guilty did he ask for an investigation of her, which the House of Representatives gladly conducted—which then came to the same conclusion as the President. How convenient.
President Duterte did the same thing with Michael Yang. Without any investigation, he proclaimed Yang not guilty of being involved in the drug trade. Why was he so sure? Because, he said, Yang was a friend of the Chinese ambassador, who even slept in Yang’s house.
After he pronounced Yang not guilty, he asked for an investigation—which was made with lightning speed. Barely a week after the request, the PNP and the PDEA, without the investigation having been concluded, seemed to come to the same conclusion as the President. How convenient.
There’s another issue. In the case of De Lima, she claimed that the witnesses against her are polluted sources. Rightly so. Why? Because most of them are convicted drug lords whose stay in the national penitentiary she had made extremely uncomfortable with her raids on them (the only justice secretary that dared a raid). And whose stay in the penitentiary has been made more pleasant by the present administration—there is a memorandum to that effect. But the whole case against her, which is continuing, is based on these polluted sources.
Now for Michael Yang, or Yang Hong Ming. His case was brought to light because of the revelations of Police Col. Eduardo Acierto (PMA 1989), former deputy director of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group, and a 20-year veteran of antinarcotics work. Acierto asserts that in 2017 (note the time, Reader), he submitted an intelligence report to his superiors in the PNP and the PDEA, and to the President, detailing the supposed links of Yang and another Chinese national to the drug trade. PDEA chief Aaron Aquino reportedly confirmed receiving this report and forwarding it to Malacañang.
The point is, nothing was done about it.
Then, in 2018, Acierto was dismissed from the service for alleged irregularities in a contract to purchase AK-47 rifles (he had previously faced charges for the murder of a Korean national, but apparently was cleared of the charges). He has reportedly gone into hiding since then.
Acierto was then declared by the Palace as a polluted source whose revelations should be ignored. Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde, I am sorry to say, because I think he is the best PNP chief we have had in a very long time, also says that Acierto should have acted on the information while he was in the PNP, “regardless kung sino ang tao.” Really? Given the closeness of Yang to the President?
What we have is an Executive who does not consider convicted felons (with axes to grind, and with the promise of better treatment in jail) a polluted source, and is in fact using them still; but considers as polluted source a 20-year antinarcotics veteran who sent him a report in 2017 on Yang’s links to drugs.
By the way, Yang, a Chinese national, was made a presidential economic adviser in early 2018. President Duterte at first denied it, but kept quiet after Rappler obtained documented proof (no wonder he is out to finish Rappler, just like De Lima). The Palace then said that he was, after all, a consultant, and then proclaimed that his contract expired at the end of 2018.
Final result: De Lima has been incarcerated for more than two years, Yang is scot-free. The rule of law—Duterte-style.