MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. on Wednesday denied that he was ever a US citizen despite being identified in the list of Americans who renounced citizenship in the last quarter of 2016.
Speaking before the Commission on Appointments, Yasay said he resided in the US for almost a decade but never legally acquired American citizenship.
"I have never legally acquired American citizenship. At the time of my application for naturalization, I was given due course and on this basis I took my oath," he said.
"I was not qualified because at that time, I already had plans to abandon my permanent residency in the United States because I already had plans to return to the Philippines."
Yasay told the Commission on Appointments that he left the Philippines in 1978 to "flee the Martial Law regime."
He said he was petitioned by his wife, an American citizen, and was given permanent resident status, which he stressed "does not imply becoming an American citizen."
"When I arrived there, I had vowed to return to the Philippines only when the conditions of Martial Law would have been lifted," he added.
During his stay in the US, Yasay became New York's first foreign-trained Filipino to pass the bar exams in the first try, and established his law practice there.
He also applied for US citizenship and pledged allegiance to US, but said he "remained a Filipino."
The US Internal Revenue Service earlier identified Yasay as one of those who have chosen to renounce citizenship.
The Quarterly Publication of Individuals Who Have Chosen to Expatriate lists "YASAY, JR PERFECTO RIVAS" as one of those who renounced American citizenship. The list was issued January 26, 2017.
In his statement, Yasay said a visit to the the Philippines in early 1986 prompted him to declare intent to return to his home country, so his oath of allegiance was nullified.
In January 1987, he came home to Davao City as a "returning Filipino resident."
Since then, he has been a registered voter, ran for the Senate in 2003 and 2007, and made an unsuccessful vice presidential bid in 2010.
In all these instances, Yasay said his Filipino citizenship was never questioned.
Yasay's confirmation hit a snag after a media report earlier this month alleged that a notice from the US government lists him among American citizens "who lost citizenship."
The report also cited 2 anonymous sources claiming that Yasay has a US passport, which he supposedly used in travels from 2007 to 2009.
But the top diplomat insisted: "I do not have any information on that passport at all. As far as I know, personal knowledge, I never held any American passport."
He also stressed that he could not have lost his American citizenship as he never had one in the first place.
Yasay added that though he underwent a renunciation procedure, this was not to revoke an American citizenship, but merely to reiterate "the admission of non-eligibility that I made much, much earlier."
US and Philippine official documents in his possession also prove his Filipino citizenship, he said.
He also asserted that his detractors, who “would like to stymie and prevent my confirmation as secretary of foreign affairs”, must lodge challenges to his citizenship before a local court.
However, the oath of allegiance is the last step to becoming a citizen after an applicant goes through all other requirements for naturalization, said Joanne Talbot, acting team lead and public affairs officer from the media division of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“The oath is the last step to becoming a citizen. Once you take it, you will have to renounce your citizenship. You become a citizen after complying with the rest of the requirements,” she said in a phone interview with ABS-CBN News.
ABS-CBN News tried to confirm Yasay’s citizenship with the US Embassy in the Philippines, but Deputy Press Attaché Emma Nagy said that information about whether individuals have US citizenship are protected under US privacy laws.