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10 December 2023

Philippine foreign secretary dumped over US citizenship

Philippines Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay originally obtained US citizenship in 1986. (AFP)


Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay was sacked on Wednesday after lawmakers ruled he lied to them over his American citizenship, ending an eight-month stint that ironically featured outbursts against the United States.

In an extremely rare move, members of a congressional body unanimously voted to reject Yasay's nomination as foreign secretary 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.

President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Yasay, a former roommate at university decades ago, at the start of his administration on June 30 last year.

Following the Commission on Appointments' ruling, Duterte's spokesman released a statement confirming Yasay would step down, saying the president would announce an acting foreign secretary.

Yasay told an initial confirmation hearing last month 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 at the US embassy in Manila days before his appointment as foreign secretary.

Yasay, who worked as an immigration lawyer while living in the United States, insisted he never lied about his citizenship but apologised 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 Yasay could not be reappointed and warned he may face perjury charges.

Duterte is now left with finding a new top diplomat at an important time for the Philippines while it holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. A summit of ASEAN leaders will be held in Manila next month.

Duterte's spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said an announcement on an acting foreign secretary would be made "forthwith", without specifying when.

The revelations that Yasay had US citizenship are ironic given the president's repeated anti-American tirades.

Yasay also regularly criticised the United States as he helped 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.

Yasay also posted a long statement on Facebook in October headlined: "America has failed us".

"Breaking away from the shackling dependency of the Philippines to effectively address both internal and external security threats has become imperative in putting an end to our nation's subservience to United States' interests," Yasay wrote.