Looking into the controversies on Chinese businessman Michael Yang

November 9, 2018 - 3:51 PM
Michael Yang
Michael Yang with President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials (Presidential photo/Toto Lozano)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s denial and subsequent admittance of Chinese businessman Michael Yang’s involvement with the government drew criticisms over having a foreigner in public office.

Duterte first mentioned Michael Yang in public at an event last October 2018. It was later reported that Yang was the presidential economic adviser based on official records. Still, Duterte denied this, saying he cannot appoint him as he is a Chinese national.

A month later, the Palace backtracked and admitted that Yang was appointed as the president’s consultant.

Consultant or presidential adviser?

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed that Yang is a consultant of the president and that he was appointed.

“He (Duterte) consults him every now and then,” Panelo said and added that it was a “one peso a year job.”

The spokesman explained that Yang’s know-how in running a business makes him competent for the position.

“And he (Yang) has a technical know-how how to run a business and also because he’s Chinese, he knows a lot of people in the Chinese government. And he knows the psychology of Chinese. On that aspect, the president needs people like him,” Panelo added.

When asked for details on Yang’s work for Duterte and the type of sensitive state information he has access to, Panelo said that these were “between him and the economic adviser.”

The titles of economic adviser and consultant were interchanged in conversations about it online.

The Palace’s wavering did not escape online Filipinos.

Others criticized the reason for denying Yang’s role at first, and then having Panelo admitting it later.

Some expressed their disbelief with the remark that Yang is paid only P1 for his services.

Amid being closely tied to the president, Yang cannot influence policy, Panelo further claimed, and that his role was only of “advisory capacity.”

Members of the opposition Liberal Party, meanwhile, asked for transparency from the government.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima also issued Senate Resolution 922 seeking a probe into Yang’s appointment, saying that allowing a foreigner to enter public office is a concern of national security.

The surfacing of Michael Yang: A timeline

Yang’s name was first brought up during an official dinner at Malacañan Palace with officers and members of the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association on October 4.

Duterte in a characteristic off-the-cuff speech said that Yang is neither a drug addict nor a pusher. He then shared, “ang ambassador ng China diyan natutulog sa bahay niya. At saka kasama ‘yan doon sa entourage ni Premier of China.”

China’s ambassador to the Philippines is Zhao Jianhua.

Columnist Ellen Tordesillas commented in an column that Duterte’s statements that night were unclear. He may have hinted that someone pressured him to bring out Yang.

On October 9, it was reported that Yang has an office in Malacañang and a website titled “Office of the Presidential Economic Adviser.”

Photos of him in formal occasions with other government officials are also found on his  website. As of writing, the website could not be accessed.

Screenshots of his office identification card with the official Malacañang seal and the title to his name started to circulated online around that time.

Michael Yang’s calling card bears Malacañang seal from Philippines

However, Duterte still refused to acknowledge appointing Yang to the post. He said that such is impossible because “he is a Chinese.”

On November 6, Rappler obtained Yang’s records that revealed he had two contracts with the government this year as “economic adviser to the president.”

His first contract was from January 1 to June 30, and then renewed from July 1 to December 31.

On November 9, Panelo changed tune and announced Yang was picked for the job, but Duterte did not sign the paperwork for it.

Yang reportedly first came to Davao city 15 years ago.  He also owns business ventures there called the Davao City Los Amigos Stores.

He also had a doctorate degree in Business Administration at Princeton University and held positions in the business sector after, as stated in his company website.

What the law says

While it is unclear whether Yang is working as a third party consultant or an official adviser to the president, there are laws that could question this capacity.

The government is allowed to hire foreign third party consultants or suppliers by virtue of Republic Act  9184.

However, this should be subjected to selective bidding first by the appropriate government agency.

No person with foreign citizenship, meanwhile, can enter either an elective or appointive post, according to Republic Act 9225.

Before swearing in oath, the person has to “make a personal and sworn renunciation of any and all foreign citizenship.”