MANILA, Philippines – It was apparently an awkward meeting of the ninang and ninongs with their godson.
Who would have thought that nearly four years since senators became godparents to Kenneth Dong in his wedding in Pasay, they would again see their inaanak in the same city?
But this time, the meeting was no longer during a glorious occasion but at a Senate inquiry where Dong, a known Cebu-based businessman, was grilled over his alleged hand in the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China, which entered the Philippines via the Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) express lane last May.
Shabu shipment: Who knew whom? Who did what?
Customs broker Mark Ruben Taguba earlier alleged that Dong was the middleman of Fil-Chinese businessman Chen Ju Long, also known in the Philippines as Richard Tan or Richard Chen, the general manager of Hong Fei Logistics, the company that transported the 604 kilos of shabu, which found its way to a warehouse in Valenzuela City.
But during the continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s inquiry on the smuggled shabu on Wednesday, Dong washed his hands of the crime and said that while he had helped Chen facilitate the shipment of the cargo through his friend Manny Li (Li Guan Feng), his only role in the processing of the shipment was to translate to English the cargo’s packing list, which was written in Chinese.
Li was Chen’s broker, who helped him facilitate the documentation of the shipment. It was Li who had asked Dong to find a Filipino broker for his supposed Chinese client. Taguba said he was the one tapped by Dong — through a friend he identified as Jun Pineda — to look for a Manila-based consignee for the shipment, which was EMT Trading.
According to Taguba, he didn’t know Chen because he thought that his client was Dong. According to Chen, he didn’t know Dong and only knew Li.
EMT was apparently just a dummy importer as its sole proprietor, Eirene Mae Agustino Tatad, testified before the Senate that she didn’t know anything about the shipment as EMT, a first time importer, was just a consignee-for-hire.
Dong said it was Li who had sent him the packing list from Hong Fei, which prepared the original document that contained details about the package, including the five cylinders where the shabu was placed. He said that after translating the list to English, he sent the same to Taguba.
“Galing po ‘yon kay Mister Manny, sinesend po n’ya sa akin in Chinese…and then tina-translate ko sa English version bago ipasa kay Mr. Taguba,” Dong told senators during the inquiry.
It wasn’t clear how many times should the packing list from Hong Fei be translated to English from Chinese.
During the Senate inquiry, it was mentioned that Li was the translator of the list. But Dong also said that he had also translated the same list from Chinese to English after Li sent the document to him.
Also, during the hearing, senators determined that it was Li who had translated the list from Chinese to English and in the process removed the information about the cylinders containing shabu. Thus when the BOC received the cargo, there were no more cylinders written on the list.
Taguba on Wednesday testified that it was Dong who gave him the bill of lading for the shipment or the document between the shipper of the cargo and the carrier detailing the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being carried.
He said cylinders were not listed in the document but only cutting boards, footwear, kitchenware, and mould.
Taguba added that the packing list sent to him by Dong didn’t also include the cylinders.
Before he was assigned as packing list translator and/or facilitator of a shipment that later was found to contain shabu and then quizzed at the Senate, Dong already personally knew some of the lawmakers at the Upper Chamber as they stood as primary sponsors in his wedding with Lovell Tee, a day after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) battered the Visayas.
On November 9, 2013, Dong and Tee tied the knot at the Shrine of Jesus followed by a reception at Hotel Sofitel, both located in Pasay.
With the couple were their ninangs and ninongs, wearing golden yellow gowns and barongs, respectively. They included then defeated senatorial candidates Risa Hontiveros and Juan Miguel Zubiri, and then former senator Francis Pangilinan — who are all senators now.
Retired Army brigadier general Danilo Lim, who took part in the failed February 2006 coup against the Arroyo administration and quit his post as BOC deputy commissioner in July 2013, also stood as primary sponsor. Lim is now the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Sen. Ralph Recto was also among the ninongs but failed to attend the nuptial.
Businessman, poll campaign contributor
All four current senators admitted knowing Dong but not as someone allegedly linked to narcotics. They confirmed that he is their godson, whom they knew as a businessman, a benefactor, or a poll campaign donor.
The senators said that if it would be proven that Dong is indeed involved in illegal drugs, they would not condone his acts.
Zubiri said that he considered Dong his friend.
“I got to know Mr. Kenneth Dong when a friend introduced him to me several years ago. I was told that he is a legitimate businessman and an importer of Asuki industrial weighing scales. I consider him a friend but I do not know what his dealings and businesses are except for his ownership of Asuki,” Zubiri said in a recent statement.
“He made me ‘ninong’ at his wedding and I was only one of many senators, politicians and celebrities who were asked to be principal sponsor. I have not seen him since last Christmas, close to eight months ago. As a public servant, I meet a lot of people and do not prejudge them,” he added.
Hontiveros, meanwhile, said Dong was introduced to her in 2012 as a legitimate businessman selling industrial weighing scales. She said her godson had helped her in her senatorial campaign and in her relief efforts for Yolanda victims.
In 2013, the businessman, also known as Yi Shan Gong Dong, donated P3 million to Hontiveros’ senatorial campaign kitty and another P5 million during the 2016 poll campaign.
He also gave P3 million to Joel Villanueva last year after the chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) resigned from his post and ran and won in the senatorial elections.
For his part, Pangilinan said he had met Dong “when I was chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food during my second term as senator.”
“I was the keynote speaker during the International Agri-Tourism Summit upon his invitation. In November 2013, I became one of the sponsors during his wedding,” he added.
Trade summit organizer, patron
The summit Pangilinan was referring to was held at the World Trade Center in Pasay City. A Philipine News Agency (PNA) photo of the event dated June 30, 2011 shows Pangilinan and Dong together.
According to the photo’s caption, Dong is the president and general manager of A-Linx Events International Inc., the organizer of the summit.
Another PNA photo of the 2011 event shows Pangilinan, then TESDA head Villanueva, then Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Joel Rudinas with Dong, identified in the caption as the chairman of the International Agriculture and Tourism Expo.
In other photos also in 2011 published by tabloid Pinoy Parazzi, Dong is seen with other personalities that include Villanueva, Lim, and actor Cesar Montano, now the chief operating officer of the Tourism Promotions Board.
The newspaper said the photos were taken during the August 24, 2011 fund raising for government Panaghoy Children’s Foundation. The non-government organization founded by Montano, brings relief to poverty-stricken children in Bohol, according to its website.
A separate article by pep.ph about the same event that took place in Taguig City quoted Montano as saying that he would “like to thank my friend Kenneth” for the help and support that the foundation received from Dong.
Into construction business and selling of weighing scales and club owner
Meanwhile, Recto said he had met Dong through a staffer of another senator, whom he didn’t identify.
“I know him to be a young entrepreneur selling industrial weighing scales. I may have been invited to be a wedding sponsor (in his wedding) but did not attend. I don’t know more than what I have said,” Recto said in a recent statement.
In Cebu, Dong is known as a successful businessman engaged in selling industrial weighing scales and construction projects, among other trades. He is identified as the owner of Asuco Industrial Weighing Scales.
Dong is also the chief executive officer of Liv Super Club in Mandaue City, once described in a news article as Cebu’s biggest, hippiest, and first luxury club, which was established in 2014.