Well, that was fast.
Barely two days after dismissed police officer Eduardo Acierto lobbed explosive accusations at President Duterte, Malacañang and the police brass—that he had submitted a dossier to the Palace and to his bosses at the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) alleging links to the drug trade by Michael Yang, a former economic adviser to the President, and a certain Allan Lim, but that no action was ever taken and, worse, a bounty was put on his head—Yang, it would seem, can rest easy. The top lieutenants of the President virtually lined up to the man to exonerate him, while the administration itself seems uninterested in any further probe into the matter.
PNP chief Oscar Albayalde said they haven’t seen anything so far that would link Yang to drugs (“Wala naman tayo so far nakikita talaga”). Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Yang that Acierto fingered in his report was different from the Davao-based Yang who served as the President’s economic adviser. PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said as much, admitting that he did receive a copy of Acierto’s report but that it was a different, low-level Yang that showed up in their database. The country, it seems, has a surfeit of Michael Yangs. But, as for the Michael Yang captured in many photographs with the President, PNP spokesperson Col. Bernard Banac reiterated the official line with a nonargument: “Wala namang kaugnayan ’yung naturang tao sa illegal drugs. Otherwise nagkaroon na ng investigation (The man has no connection to drugs, otherwise there would have been an investigation).”
(Thought bubble here: Well, yeah, Acierto’s charge is precisely that his request for an investigation was ignored!)
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea took the more convenient road of forgetfulness: “We are still looking for the report and as of now we can’t find any submitted to our office.”
As for President Duterte, offense was the best defense, as usual. Blasting Acierto as a disgruntled ex-cop dismissed from service for his involvement in a case that saw police firearms ending up with the rebel New People’s Army, Duterte then thundered: “Tanungin ko kaya military at saka police bakit buhay pa yang p—nang ’yan (Let me ask the military and police why that SOB is still alive).”
Wait. Was that confirmation—by the President no less—that a hit order has indeed been made against Acierto? That would validate at least one-half of the man’s claim, that his life is in danger now that he has linked a powerful person close to the President to alleged criminal activities. But if Acierto knew something that incendiary, why would the President want him dead? Wouldn’t he be more valuable alive, to provide the police the necessary information that would help them bust the drug syndicate allegedly under Yang’s aegis and destroy its network?
And who is this Michael Yang, anyway, that the protection and defense of his name would summon all this high-level hubbub? In October last year, Duterte first denied that he had appointed the businessman as his economic adviser. “Cannot be, because he is Chinese,” said the President. But Yang himself billed his office as “Presidential Adviser for Economic Affairs,” and when his appointment papers as such surfaced, Malacañang eventually admitted that “he is one of the consultants of the President.” Fast forward to the Acierto case: The Palace now says Yang is no longer the President’s adviser, his “One Peso per annum contract” having “expired on December 31, 2018.”
But before that, photos attest that Yang and Lim were in the company of Duterte in front of the presidential seal at one time, and in another event. Acierto’s telling point: The President—once described by his police chief as having “unlimited sources of information” on drugs—might have been unaware of the two’s shady links. “Sumagi sa isip ko noon na baka hindi alam ni Presidente na ito ang mga pinaghihinalaang drug lord. Paano nga kaya niya nakilala ang mga ito (It occurred to me that maybe the President does not know these are suspected drug lords. How did he become acquainted with them)?”
How, indeed. Now, such questions, and more, are set to hound Malacañang if it stonewalls an honest-to-goodness inquiry into the matter. These charges may yet become the gravest so far to hit the Duterte administration, striking as they do at the heart of the President’s most contentious domestic policy. To “clear the air,” as Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged, the Palace owes the public an official probe into Acierto’s claims—because there appears to be much more to this affair than has been disclosed so far, and whatever it is, it stinks.
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