MANILA: Philippine lawmakers on Wednesday rejected the appointment of Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay after ruling he lied to them about being an American citizen.
The decision by the Commission on Appointments threw the Philippines’ diplomatic leadership into turmoil, with the lawmakers ruling that Yasay had been effectively sacked but his spokesman saying that was not yet clear.
In an extremely rare move, the congressional body unanimously voted to reject Yasay’s nomination following tense confirmation hearings in which he admitted to misleading the lawmakers.
“He was not telling the truth. He was not being forthright in the question and answer portion of the (confirmation) hearings,” Senator Panfilo Lacson told reporters after announcing the decision.
Yasay, appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte at the start of his administration eight months ago, told an initial hearing that he had never been an American citizen.
But on Wednesday Yasay faced the commission again and was grilled over documents that showed he obtained US citizenship in 1986.
The documents also showed Yasay renounced the American citizenship before the US embassy in Manila days before his appointment as foreign secretary.
Yasay insisted he never lied about his citizenship, but apologized for “inadvertently misleading” the commission.
“I may not have fully disclosed what was required in my answering this question but this is really normal in a process like this,” Yasay said.
“You get nervous, you somehow come up with answers that you do not intend.”
Lacson said Duterte could not reappoint Yasay.
This would mean the president would have to find a new top diplomat at an important time for the Philippines and while it holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
However when asked whether Yasay had been effectively sacked, and if this was immediate, Yasay’s spokesman said via text message: “That’s what we’re trying to determine”.
The revelations that Yasay, Duterte’s dormitory roommate at university decades ago, had US citizenship are ironic given the president’s repeated anti-American tirades.
Yasay has also regularly criticized the United States as he has helped to steer Duterte’s foreign policy away from the Philippines’ former colonial ruler and towards China instead.
“We cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America,” Yasay said last year. AFP