THE powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday rejected the ad interim appointment of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. who was found to have been an American citizen once, removing him from the Cabinet post he had held for eight months.
Members of the CA committee on foreign affairs headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson unanimously voted to reject Yasay’s appointment during an executive session.
It was the first time for an appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte to be rejected by the appointments body.
“The commission has gone over the qualifications and issues besetting the appointee. After careful deliberation of the foregoing circumstances and upon a unanimous vote of 15 of its members present in a caucus this morning, this representation as chairman of the CA committee on foreign affairs, hereby move to reject the ad interim appointment of Perfecto Rivas Yasay Jr.,” Lacson said during the CA’s plenary session.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, chairman of the appointments body, then asked if anyone objected to the motion, but nobody responded.
The CA foreign affairs panel had lined up a number of issues and queries for Yasay to answer including the inventory of overseas Filipino workers in death row and assistance provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in such cases, the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and the action plan of the government in case US President Donald Trump deports all undocumented Filipinos.
But members of the committee focused mainly on the US citizenship issue hounding Yasay.
Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato grilled the DFA secretary about his earlier statement before the CA panel that he never had a US passport. Yasay later admitted in a television interview that he used to own a US passport.
Yasay maintained that he did not lie, but admitted that he did not make a full disclosure because he got nervous.
“And for that Mr. Chair, your honor, I apologize for any inadvertent or misleading [statement]that I may have made,” he said.
Sato however reminded Yasay about their exchanges in a previous hearing, wherein she asked the DFA secretary whether or not he carried US passport number 121190223, which he categorically denied.
“Mr. Chairman, you see this is not going anywhere and I would like to rest my case, but before that, why can the honorable secretary not admit the truth that he was an American citizen?” she said.
Sato also pointed to a recent statement by Yasay that the move to question his citizenship was linked to an alleged plot to destabilize the Duterte administration.
Sato said the accusation was at the very least “contemptuous of this commission” and Yasay was forced to apologize to members of the commission.
In an interview after the plenary session, Lacson said the President could no longer reappoint Yasay.
Yasay lied, Lacson said.
“The best evidence is the document. The records will contradict what you’re saying. Even if you are under oath your testimony won’t carry weight against the official records,” he said.
Lacson said Yasay could be cited for perjury, but the CA would not file a case against him.
Panelo defends Yasay
President Duterte’s top counsel on Wednesday defended Yasay, calling the former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman a “competent secretary.”
“I understand Secretary Yasay’s nomination has been rejected by the Commission on Appointments. I am unhappy to hear about that. First, he’s a personal friend being a classmate in the UP (University of the Philippines) College of Law. Second, he’s a good secretary of Foreign Affairs,” Panelo said in a news conference.
“But if that is the decision of the Commission on Appointments, we cannot do anything about it,” he added.
The President’s lawyer said it was now up to the courts to determine Yasay’s citizenship and any liability he might have.
“You know, legal issues have been raised on the matter of the citizenship of Secretary Yasay. As a lawyer, he has his legal arguments to defend himself,” Panelo said.
“I think the proper forum would be the courts to determine whether or not he was an American citizen at one time in his life, or not as he says,” he added.
Cayetano to take over?
Panelo could not answer when asked who would replace Yasay, but recalled that the post was promised to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who ran as vice president under Duterte but lost.
After winning the presidential race in May last year, Duterte said he would offer the Foreign Affairs portfolio to Cayetano after the one-year ban on appointments of losing candidates to government posts.
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said an acting secretary of Foreign Affairs would be designated by President Duterte.
“The Office of the Executive Secretary will communicate with the Department of Foreign Affairs by 8 a.m. tomorrow, 09 March 2017. Announcement will be forthwith,” Abella said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE