MANILA (via PhilAmPress) – The Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday, March 8, by unanimous vote swiftly rejected the appointment of Perfecto Yasay Jr. as Foreign Affairs Secretary on the basis of his US citizenship status.
This after Yasay failed to defend his citizenship status following reports that he renounced his US citizenship on June 28, 2016 or only two days before President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him to the Cabinet.
A day after the CA decision, President Duterte appointed the most senior official in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo, as acting foreign affairs secretary.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella announced the appointment of Manalo in Malacanang, saying Manalo will hold the position until the President appoints a new DFA Secretary.
President Duterte had earlier said that Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who was his candidate for vice president in the May elections, would be the next foreign affairs secretary. Cayetano, however, could not yet be appointed because of the one-year ban on appointment of losing candidates.
Despite Yasay’s rejection, the bicameral commission confirmed seven foreign service officers namely Jay Francis Galino Alcantara, Redentor Diaz Genotiva, Carlyn Andrino Monastrial, Kristine Marget Mendiola Malang, Anna Marie Cano Santos, John Francis Solano Herrera and Arvic Ventura Arevalo.
“Usec. Manalo is an excellent transition man, and has been on top of many crucial issues together with Atty. Perfecto Yasay,” Abella said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the CA panel on Foreign Affairs, said that 15 out of 18 members of the CA unanimously voted to reject Yasay’s confirmation.
“The ad interim of Sec. Yasay is rejected,” Lacson said during the CA plenary session.
In an interview with reporters, Lacson said that if a Senate panel could criticize a resource person for not telling the truth, the same should be applied to a cabinet official.
“It only shows that the CA will not be a rubber stamp of the Executive Department. We all know how close Atty. Yasay is to the President (Duterte) and it did not deter the commission from acting independently,” Lacson said.
“Because on the view of the majority that he was not telling the truth in the question and answer portion of the hearing, we decided to reject his ad interim appointment. It was unanimous, nobody objected,” Lacson said.
Lacson pointed out that the best evidence are Yasay’s documents and records.
“If the records contradict what you’re saying even if you’re under oath, your testimony won’t carry weight against the records,” he added.
He said that Yasay’s rejection also means that he can no longer be reappointed as Foreign Affairs Secretary.
Asked if the committee had plans to file perjury charges against Yasay, Lacson said that it would be up to the President. However, it should first be proven that he’s not qualified to be a government official.
“It depends on President, if he wants to give him another position. It’s up to him, but it’s a question of qualification. The commission is not the ultimate forum because there’s a process to determine finally if he is really a US citizen,” he added.
Lacson further said that any taxpayer can file a perjury case against Yasay for lying about his citizenship status.
The senator said that Yasay will have to vacate his position immediately noting that his rejection is “effective today.” Pres. Duterte should meanwhile appoint a new Foreign Affairs Secretary in an acting capacity.
While the CA made the announcement, Yasay was advised to stay in the office of Senate Pres. Aquilino Pimentel III, Lacson said.
Yasay, during the confirmation hearing, maintained that he never “legally acquired” a US citizenship.
After less than an hour of being grilled by members of the powerful commission, particularly lawyer Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Sato, the panel decided to dispense questioning to proceed to an executive session.
It was in the executive session where members of the commission decided to reject Yasay’s appointment. However, Yasay insisted that he never lost his Filipino citizenship status.
“I did not lose my status as a Filipino for the reason that I did not validly acquire US citizenship. I took my oath as a US citizen, was issued a certificate of naturalization and given a US passport,” Yasay said.
Sato, however, said that previous documents submitted by Yasay clearly showed that he has admitted that he was granted US citizenship on Nov 26, 1986.
She said that she previously asked for Yasay’s citizenship documents right after suspension of hearing last February 22, 2017 and he handed an envelope containing a certificate of loss of nationality of the US dated June 28, 2016.
The congresswoman said that the envelope also contained a letter dated Feb. 23, 1993 addressed to district director of Immigration and Naturalization Service of New Jersey and an affidavit dated Feb. 23, 1993 wherein the first paragraph of that affidavit states that: “I Perfecto Yasay Jr., after being duly sworn to in accordance with law, state that on Nov .26, 1986, I was granted US citizenship by the US District of New Jersey under petition no 12831295.”
She also pointed out that on paragraph 8 of the same letter, he said: “I am executing this affidavit to attest to the truth and to admit the fact that when I applied and was granted US citizenship, I did not intend to reside in the US and abandoned US residency within one year from the date of said naturalization to establish a permanent residency in the Philippines thereby rendering we ineligible and disqualified for that citizenship.”
“These clearly show that he has admitted that at some point in time particularly on Nov. 26 1986, he was granted an American citizenship. I would want you to categorically answer ‘yes or no’ whether at one point in your life, were you ever an American citizen?” Sato asked Yasay.
Yasay said that he could not answer with a yes or no but admitted that he was granted US citizenship but that the grant was “null and void” because the Immigration and Nationality Act of US particularly provides that anyone with a “preconceived intent” to abandon his or her residency at the time the application of grant of citizenship is disqualified.
“…By that basis, the grant is null and void. The process is you are supposed to be subject to naturalization proceedings as a basis to remove your citizenship on that disqualification, however, I precisely, voluntarily admitted that I was disqualified and that avoided a naturalization proceedings,” the secretary said.
Yasay said that it was the course of action he took because he was already in the Philippines by Jan. 8, 1987. Simply put, he said that he was disqualified because of his intention to return to the Philippines.
He also insisted that assumptions that he was an alien must be proven before a proper forum.
“The issue about whether or not I am right or I am wrong…will have to be determined in the proper forum for purposes of resolving whether or not I had lost my Filipino citizenship,” he said.