(UPDATED – 10:00 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines – Businessman Kenneth Dong admits he has the habit of hobnobbing with the powerful and the famous. And because of his desire to mix and have photos with them, he now realizes that this is causing him more trouble instead of gaining him more influence.
This was what Dong, the alleged middleman in the smuggling of P6.4-billion worth of shabu from China, told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Tuesday after Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV quizzed him about his apparently too close for comfort photos with the sons of President Rodrigo Duterte — Davao Vice Mayor Paolo “Pulong” Duterte and Sebastian “Baste” Duterte.
“Ito kasi may sinasabi…pictures would say a thousand words… Ayan oh, makikita mo. Malapit mo na kaibigan si Paolo Duterte?” Trillanes told Dong during the Senate inquiry into the shabu shipment.
[This says something…pictures would say a thousand words…Look, you’ll see in the photos. Is Paolo Duterte your close friend?]
“Hindi po talaga [No, he’s really not my close friend],” Dong replied to Trillanes.
‘Ah, so wacky lang na photo ito [Ah, so this is just a wacky photo],” the senator retorted.
In the undated funny shot, Dong, wearing eyeglasses, is seen with four others including Paolo, with a a clenched fist and a grimace.
According to Dong, he met Paolo in 2008 when he expanded his weighing scale business in Davao but the vice mayor is just his acquaintance.
“Acquaintance lang kasi, hindi naman po kami gano’n ka close,” Dong told senators.
In another photo also shown by Trillanes during the Senate hearing, Dong, also wearing spectacles, is seen with a smiling Baste, his arm wrapped around the back of the President’s son.
But Dong again denied he had close ties with Baste and explained that he just had the habit of having photo ops with personalities.
“Mahilig talaga ako magpa-picture. ‘Yan ang problema sa akin, kaya naiintriga ako [I’m fond of having pictures taken with other people. That’s the problem with me, that’s why I’m being plagued with intrigues],” he said.
Trillanes responded, saying such fondness could indeed cause Dong problems because a senator was jailed after her photo with another person spread and became the subject of a Senate inquiry.
The lawmaker was apparently referring to Sen. Leila de Lima, who posed for a picture with suspected drug lord Kerwin Espinosa while she was in Baguio City in 2015.
“Problema nga ‘yan, dahil may isang senador nga na napakulong dahil lang sa picture,” the senator said.
Earlier, President Duterte said he would step down if it would be proven that Paolo and his other children are corrupt.
“Sinuman ‘yong [Whoever is the] official who entertained, with the intervention of any of my sons and daughters, that is enough for me. I will fire you and I will press charges against you, my relative, whoever he is and you’ll have the luxury of seeing me go down. Hindi ko na kailangan itong trabaho na ito [I no longer need this job],” said the chief executive.
The President issued the statement days after customs broker Mark Taguba said during an inquiry by the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs that the President’s eldest child was allegedly being “name-dropped” by those at the Bureau of Customs whom Taguba claimed to have received tara or grease money from him, namely “Tita Nani,” “Jake,” and “Small.”
Paolo dismissed Taguba’s allegation.
“Taguba admitted that his testimony against me was based entirely on rumors. Why would we entertain or believe a hearsay? One does not dignify lies with a response,” the vice mayor said in a statement sent to reporters.
He also challenged his accusers to a file case against him.
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