Photo by Lito Boras/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday, March 8, rejected the ad interim appointment of lawyer Perfecto Yasay Jr as Philippine foreign secretary after he denied once being a US citizen.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the CA foreign affairs committee, said Yasay's rejection was final. "He was just rejected so he will have to vacate his position," Lacson said.
Based on CA rules, President Rodrigo Duterte can no longer reappoint Yasay, his campaign supporter and dormitory roommate when they were law students.
Lacson announced before a CA plenary session that the CA foreign affairs committee unanimously voted to reject Yasay's appointment.
"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 moves to reject the ad interim appointment of Perfecto Rivas Yasay Jr," Lacson said before the plenary.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, CA chair, approved the motion which was unopposed.
Before he delivered his committee's verdict on Yasay, Lacson said the CA panel tackled several issues all related to Yasay's US citizenship. (READ: FACT CHECK: Did Rappler say Yasay got U.S. passport in 2006?)
Addressing Yasay's insistence that the court, not the CA, was the proper forum to resolve his US citizenship questions, Lacson said, "It cannot be denied that the CA is also a proper forum to determine his qualifications and fitness as foreign affairs secretary."
Lacson also gave a stern reminder to all aspiring presidential appointees who require CA scrutiny about the sanctity of taking an oath.
"Let this be a reminder to everyone present in this hall that by definition, an oath is a solemn declaration, accompanied by a swearing to God, or a revered person or thing, that one's statement is true, or that one will be bound to a promise," Lacson said.
"The person making the oath implicitly invites punishment if the statement is untrue or the promise is broken," he added.
'Tell the truth'
Hours before this announcement, at Yasay's final confirmation hearing, Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez-Sato again subjected the Cabinet official to intense grilling about his former US citizenship. (READ: U.S citizen before? Yasay refuses to say yes or no)
Sato noted that when Yasay appeared before the CA on February 22, he categorically stated that he "never held any American passport," but when he was interviewed on ANC two weeks later, he said otherwise. (READ: Yasay lied under oath, now admits owning U.S. passport)
"I do not understand why he can admit it in a TV station and cannot admit it before this honorable commission," the lawmaker said.
Yasay said: "I would like to state here and now, again, I did not lie. I may not have fully disclosed what was required in my answering this question, but this is really normal in a process like this."
Sato, a member of the Liberal Party, also noted that Yasay had linked his confirmation troubles to an alleged "destabilization plot" against the Durterte administration.
"It pains me, Mr Chairman, that anything and everything that cannot be answered will be attributed to the destabilization plot. This is unpardonable, Mr Chairman. The actuation of the honorable secretary, at the very least, is contemptuous of this commission," she said.
In response, Yasay said when he answered Sato's question at the February 22 hearing – whether he ever owned a US passport – he had in mind the "accusations" of Rappler in its series of stories on his US citizenship.
Yasay said: "I was referring to the accusations made through Rappler. And I personally believe that on that basis, this accusation was made not only to embarrass me but more importantly, to embarrass the appointing authority, and maybe perhaps this is part of the destabilization effort."
He then told CA members: "God is my witness. My heart is open. I never said this. And I apologize for this sincerely if I hurt you on this because it has never been my intention to do so."
Sato shot back, "And I hope God will enlighten you to tell the truth before this committee."
Lawmakers earlier said Yasay could be liable for perjury after he said in a previous CA hearing that he never legally acquired US citizenship and that he never owned a US passport.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.