Chinese businessman Michael Yang one of Duterte's 'advisers', Palace says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) — A Davao-based Chinese businessman is an adviser to President Rodrigo Duterte, Malacañang said Tuesday.

In a media briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte from time to time seeks advice from Chinese national Michael Yang in his capacity as a "consultant."

This comes amid reports Yang is a presidential economic adviser, with documents of his supposed appointment papers released online. In October, Duterte himself denied Yang was appointed to the post.

"Michael Yang is just one of those advisers the President consults regarding matters. He receives one peso a year," Panelo told reporters.

"Mr. Yang is a wealthy man, he has (risen) from poor origins," he added. "Because he is Chinese, he knows people from the Chinese government. And he knows the psychology of the Chinese. And on that aspect, the President needs people like him."

But when asked what services Yang could provide that a Filipino consultant could not, Panelo addressed Yang as "economic adviser."

"I think it's between the President and the economic adviser. You cannot be revealing those things," the presidential spokesperson said.

Yang owns the Davao City Los Amigos shopping center. The law bars him from having a role in the government, including as economic adviser, since he is a Chinese citizen.

However, Panelo noted there was nothing wrong with Yang serving as a "consultant" to the President.

When presented with a transcript of the appointment papers, Panelo retracted and pronounced he has yet to ask the President about the appointment.

"E di adviser nga siya, sabi niya adviser siya eh (he is an adviser if he says so)," Panelo said.

"But I will ask the President about this, para meron tayong accurate response (so that we'll have an accurate response)," he added.

Going through the documents, Panelo said the papers appeared to be signed by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

Guevarra, in a text message, said there is "no legal prohibition" for the Chinese national's "work" as a consultant for the President.

"Advisory capacity lang 'yun (It's just for advisory)," Guevarra said of Yang. "The President may or may not listen to him."

In a separate statement Tuesday, Panelo said, "Presidential Advisers usually hold Cabinet rank positions with full staff complement. Mr. Yang's case is different. He is a one-peso-a-year consultant-adviser under a standard contract of service with a fixed term who simply performs advisory functions."

Panelo added Yang is called by the President "from time to time" to seek advice.

"He is, therefore, just part of a pool of consultant-advisers of PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte). He alone cannot influence the shaping of the President's policies for the country," Panelo added.

The Chinese businessman was previously linked to alleged illegal drug trade. But Duterte, in a speech in October, cleared Yang of supposed drug ties.

The President said China's Ambassador Zhao Jinhua even sleeps in Yang's house and the businessman has been part of the entourage of Chinese Premier Le Keqiang.

READ: De Lima seeks Senate probe on Chinese businessman's alleged appointment as Duterte adviser