MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday (March 9) appointed a career diplomat and a key player in steering the Asean agenda as the Philippines’ acting Foreign Secretary after the previous minister was forced to step down over his US citizenship.
Under-secretary Enrique Manalo, who handles policy at the Department of Foreign Affairs, replaced Mr Perfecto Yasay, who was forced to step down on Wednesday after a congressional body determined that he lied about having a US passport.
“Under-secretary Manalo is an excellent transition man and has been on top of many crucial issues, together with... Perfecto Yasay," the president’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement .
Manalo is a well-respected career diplomat who currently is the Philippines’ point person for the Philippines’ chairmanship of Asean.
He served as ambassador to Britain and Belgium, and was the Philippines' Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in New York.
He comes from a family of diplomats. His late father, Mr Armando Manalo, was a journalist who also was an ambassador to Belgium. His mother, Mrs Rosario Manalo, won a seat in June last year at the UN Committee on the Elimination and Discrimination Against Women. She served as chairperson of the UN Commission on the Status of Women from 1984 to 1986 and was ambassador to Belgium, France, and Sweden.
Mr Manalo, however, is expected to head the foreign affairs department only till May, when Mr Duterte is expected to name Senator Alan Cayetano to the post.
Mr Cayetano was Mr Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 election, but he lost to Liberal Party candidate Leni Robredo.
The president and vice-president are elected separately in the Philippines.
Mr Duterte appointed Mr Yasay, a college dorm mate and a former securities regulator, as foreign secretary at the start of his administration on June 30 last year, though he did not intend for him to stay on for his full six-year term, as he preferred Mr Cayetano.
Mr Duterte could not immediately appoint Mr Cayetano, as the Philippine Constitution bars losing candidates from taking a government post within a year after an election.
Mr Yasay was sacked after the 15-member Commission on Appointments, consisting of legislators, concluded that he lied about having been granted US citizenship in 1986.
Mr Yasay had denied having owned a US passport or that he “legally applied” for American citizenship. But in an interview aired on Monday (March 6) by a cable news programme, he admitted that he had “had an American passport”.
“I did not lie. I may not have fully disclosed, but this is normal… You get nervous, you come up with answers you did not fully intend,” he explained to the commission on Wednesday.
"I am a Filipino, and I am not an American citizen," he added.
Mr Yasay has been dogged by allegations that he took up US citizenship in 1986, and failed to renounce it till June 28, 2016.
He insisted that in 1993, he issued an affidavit that his US citizenship was "null and void" from the very start because he had all along no intention to remain in the United States.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson, head of the appointments commission’s foreign affairs committee, said: “He was not telling the truth because he was not being forthright.”
Representative Josephine Sato, a member of the appointments body, said Mr Yasay cannot renounce his US citizenship by simply issuing an affidavit.
She said the US State Department would have to officially declare that he is no longer an American citizen. That did not come till Feb 9, 2017, when his name was included in a department list of immigrants who had lost US citizenship, she said.