MANILA, Philippines - He once said the Philippines should stop being a “little brown brother” of America.
Yesterday, Perfecto Yasay Jr. lost his post as secretary of foreign affairs for lying under oath before the Commission on Appointments (CA) about his United States citizenship.
The 15 members of the CA’s committee on foreign affairs unanimously voted to reject Yasay’s confirmation.
With the CA decision, committee chairman Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Yasay should immediately vacate his office.
President Duterte is bowing to the CA and will name Yasay’s replacement today, said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella.
CA members obtained documents showing that Yasay acquired US citizenship in 1986 and renounced it at the US embassy in Manila only last year, shortly before he was named foreign affairs chief.
Yasay has admitted having a US passport but said he lost it. He apologized for “inadvertently misleading” the CA.
He had worked as an immigration lawyer while living in the US and insisted he never lied about his citizenship.
“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 told the CA. “You get nervous, you somehow come up with answers that you do not intend.”
Lacson said Yasay “was not telling the truth, he was not being forthright in the question and answer portion.”
“We treat everybody on equal terms. If we criticize a resource person in a committee hearing for not telling the truth, we should also apply the same treatment to somebody facing the Commission on Appointments,” Lacson said.
“Second, it only shows the Commission on Appointments will not be a rubber stamp of the executive department. Because in the view of the majority, at least all the members because nobody objected, that he was not telling the truth, he was not being forthright, in the question and answer portion of the two hearings that we conducted, we decided to reject his ad interim appointment,” he added.
Lacson stressed the vote to reject Yasay was unanimous among the 15 CA members present.
When the CA opened its plenary session yesterday, Yasay was no longer around to hear the decision on his rejection.
Yasay, who shared a dorm room with President Duterte when they were still law students at San Beda, had been hounded by questions regarding his US citizenship, which he said was never valid to begin with under US immigration laws.
Many details in Yasay’s statements did not match information in various documents in the CA’s possession.
In grilling Yasay, the CA said it wanted to clarify whether his US citizenship was already revoked, and if he had completed his renunciation of his US citizenship and reacquired Philippine citizenship.
The CA also sought answers on whether he was issued US and Philippine passports at the same time, and if he continued to use his US passport even when he was no longer an American citizen.
Yasay repeatedly stated that he is a Filipino and not an American citizen and that he never lied before the CA or in any other forum.
“I am a Filipino and I am not an American citizen. This declaration is anchored on my firm belief as a lawyer that has practiced and specialized in US immigration law that I did not legally obtain US citizenship,” Yasay told the CA during his confirmation hearing yesterday.
Yasay admitted he was issued a US passport in 1986 but claimed he misplaced it.
According to Yasay, the fact that he had a preconceived intention to relinquish his US residency at the time his naturalization papers were granted on Nov. 26, 1986 and that he executed an affidavit to abandon his US residency three months later should serve as an “irrevocable, final and binding admission that the grant of such citizenship” was null and void at the onset.
At the hearing, Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato repeatedly asked Yasay to categorically state whether or not he was an American citizen at any point in his life.
“With all due respect I can’t understand why he can’t answer that simple question with a yes or no. And if he admits now he was granted (naturalization) on Nov. 26, 1986 but that he says that grant was void, but the question now is who declared your citizenship as void? What, is it your intention? Your mere intention would void a grant of American citizenship?” said Sato, who is also a lawyer and has a license to practice law in the US.
Sato noted that Yasay submitted a certificate of loss of US nationality dated June 28, 2016 or 20 years after he purportedly renounced his American citizenship. Last February, the US Internal Revenue Service published its list of individuals who lost their US citizenship. The list includes Yasay.
“I can’t understand why the secretary cannot admit to this Commission he was an American citizen and only lost it in February 2017. It’s so easy for him to admit that, and say I am now a Filipino citizen,” Sato said.
“Is it because at the time he was appointed as member and chair of the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) he was still an American citizen? Is it because at that time he filed his certificate of candidacy for senator he was still an American citizen? Is it because that when he filed his certificate of candidacy for vice president he again misrepresented to be a Filipino citizen when he in fact he was still an American citizen?” she added.
Sato, a member of the Liberal Party (LP), also called the attention of Yasay to a statement he made in a radio interview that the questions being raised about his citizenship in the CA were part of the destabilization efforts against the administration.
Yasay denied that he was referring to any member of the CA but to outside forces, which wanted to embarrass not only him but President Duterte as well.
He apologized to Sato for giving her the impression that she or any member of the CA was behind a destabilization plot.
Sato denounced the statements made by Yasay, which she said were consistent with the administration’s mindset “that anything and everything that cannot be answered could be attributed to destabilization.”
“The actuations of the secretary, at the very least, are contemptuous of this commission,” she said.
LP president Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the destabilization issue raised by Yasay was “a poor attempt at diverting the issue from the real issue of his unfitness to assume the office.”
“He lied without compunction before the Commission on Appointments on the matter of his having acquired American citizenship and thought he could take the CA members for fools. Clearly the CA members found this offensive and completely unacceptable,” Pangilinan said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the case of Yasay could have far reaching implications.
Drilon said the decisions and issuances signed by Yasay as the SEC chairman and even as secretary of foreign affairs could be questioned because of the issue regarding his citizenship.
Without any evidence to show that Yasay has reacquired his Filipino citizenship, Drilon said the outgoing DFA chief has opened himself to charges.
“When he was at the SEC he was not a Filipino citizen and he would confirm that if he takes his oath as a Filipino citizen today. He was caught in his web of legal complications,” Drilon said.
Drilon said Yasay could be held liable for violation of the Administrative Code and the SEC Law and for usurpation of public functions “because if he is not a Filipino citizen he is not qualified to discharge the functions of a public office as commissioner of the SEC or secretary of Foreign Affairs.”
Apart from Yasay, the other appointees rejected by the CA in the past were Ricardo Saludo as Civil Service Commission chairman in 2009 and the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago as agrarian reform secretary in 1990.
At the DFA, spokesman Charles Jose said despite the CA’s rejection of Yasay’s appointment “the Philippines’ conduct of foreign relations will continue.”
“We have institutions in place for that and our foreign policy remains unchanged under the leadership and direction of our President,” Jose said.
“We respect the decision of the CA and will await the President’s appointment of a new secretary of Foreign Affairs,” he added.
DFA Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo may be named acting secretary, being the next in line to Yasay.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said it would be up to the courts to determine if Yasay had been an American citizen.
“There are legal issues that have been raised on the citizenship of secretary Yasay… The proper forum would be the courts to determine if he was an American citizen at one time of his life,” Panelo said.
“Secretary Yasay, as a lawyer, has his own legal defenses. It will be up to the court to determine whose side is right,” he added.
He also expressed belief Yasay’s rejection would not have an impact on Duterte’s presidency and on the Philippines’ ties with other countries.
He admitted the CA decision made him “unhappy” as Yasay has been “good” as foreign affairs chief.
“He is a personal friend, being classmate at UP College of Law. He is a good secretary of foreign affairs but if that is the decision of the Commission on Appointments, we cannot do anything about it,” Panelo said. – Pia Lee-Brago, Alexis Romero