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'I dived under the counter': terrified waitress at Cebu restaurant tells of fatal shoot-out that left China envoy hospitalised, two consulate staff dead

Song Ronghua is reportedly undergoing treatment in hospital and the police have taken two suspects into custody

Song Ronghua, 53, in a file photograph. Photo: SCMP pictures
INTRODUCTION

China’s envoy to Cebu in the Philippines is being treated in a local hospital after he was shot while eating lunch with staff members at a popular restaurant on Wednesday afternoon, sources close to the consulate general and the police say.

Song Ronghua was attending a birthday lunch at the Lighthouse Restaurant downtown when the shooting occurred at around 1.30pm.

The consulate’s No 2 Sun Shen and finance officer Li Hui were both hit – Sun in the neck and Li in the head, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported. They were declared at hospital, Cebu police said in a statement. 

Song, 53, was sent to a nearby hospital, they said, and sources described his condition as stable. 

Two people have been taken into custody as suspects in the shooting. The police identified the suspects as Li Qing Liang and his wife Guo Jing, a married couple. 

A woman is treated and sent to the hospital after a shooting at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cebu, Philippines. Photo: SCMP Pictures
A woman is treated and sent to the hospital after a shooting at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cebu, Philippines. Photo: SCMP Pictures
CCTV footage showed Li walking out of the restaurant shortly after the shooting, according to the Inquirer. He appeared to have left behind a 45 calibre pistol, the police said.  The firearm was later hidden by his wife, local media reported. A source said she worked in the consulate's visa section, and according to the police, the couple had invoked diplomatic immunity.  
Two suspects talk to an interpreter (centre) at a police station in Cebu City, central Philippines. Photo: AFP
Two suspects talk to an interpreter (centre) at a police station in Cebu City, central Philippines. Photo: AFP

Sources said China's ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua would travel to Cebu tonight, a source at the consulate said. 

Before becoming consul general in Cebu last month, Song, 53, was spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong from 2005 to 2010.

The entrance to the Lighthouse Restaurant. Photo: Twitter
The entrance to the Lighthouse Restaurant. Photo: Twitter

Restaurant cashier Remedios Rivalde, 27, said she was at work at the cash register outside of the function room when she heard gunshots.

“I dived under the counter and covered my ears. Then there were other shots that followed,” Rivalde said.

She said the reservation had been made shortly before lunch for the consul general's birthday, and the group had ordered a banquet that included popular local delicacies such as tuna head, shrimps and roasted pork.

“They ordered a lot of food, but no liquor,” she said.

An investigator marks the crime scene at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cebu. Photo: AP
An investigator marks the crime scene at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cebu. Photo: AP

Lighthouse manager, Stephen John Patero, said the shooting occurred in a private room of the upmarket restaurant, which is a favourite for local politicians.

“We did not really see the actual shooting. They were inside a private function room. There was a series of gunshots,” Patero told AFP by phone.

But he said waiters who served them beforehand had heard the guests shouting at each other.

“They are all friends who apparently figured in an argument,” he said, citing the waiters.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse