Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Image Credit: Agency

Manila: Lawmakers on Wednesday said the Philippines' Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay lied to them about being an American citizen and said he must stand down more than eight months after his appointment.

The decision by the Commission on Appointments threw the Philippines’ diplomatic leadership into turmoil, with the lawmakers ruling that Yasay had been sacked but the foreign affairs spokesman saying that was not yet clear.

In an extremely rare move, the congressional body unanimously voted to reject Yasay’s nomination 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.

Yasay, appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte at the start of his administration on June 30 last year, told an initial hearing 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.

This would mean the president would have to find a new top diplomat at an important time for the Philippines while it holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

However when asked whether Yasay had been effectively sacked, and if this was immediate, foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said via text message: “That’s what we’re trying to determine”.

The revelations that Yasay, Duterte’s dormitory roommate at university decades ago, 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.