MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino on Thursday expressed his gratitude to golfer Yuka Saso for representing the country after she confirmed her decision to choose Japanese citizenship.
The 20-year-old Saso was born to a Japanese father and a Filipino mother in Bulacan, and has represented the Philippines in international events including the Asian Games and the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year. She was the winner of the U.S. Women's Open in June.
On Wednesday night, Saso said in a press conference ahead of the Toto Japan Classic that she has "selected Japanese citizenship."
Japanese law demands that Japanese holding dual citizenship must choose one by their 22nd birthday.
"I would like to thank her personally for representing our country for the past years," Tolentino said of Saso, in a message to ABS-CBN News.
Saso won individual and team gold in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, and placed ninth in the Tokyo Games.
Tolentino said he understands Saso's "personal business decision," which he believes will "help her develop more as a person and athlete."
"Carrying a Japanese passport (in) every international tournament helps a lot," Tolentino admitted. "Imagine, no visa needed."
"(There are) health care and social benefits too, plus the big sponsorships from Japan," he added.
Even as she chose her Japanese citizenship, Saso maintained her love for Filipino heritage, saying: "Whichever I choose, I'm both Japanese and Filipino."
Tolentino acknowledged this, saying: "She was born here in the Philippines, so by heart she represents both."
Meanwhile, National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP) secretary-general Bones Floro was similarly understanding of Saso's move.
"Yuka is both Filipino and Japanese. We are sad to see her go, but she will always be a huge part of Philippine golf. We thank her for her service to our country," Floro told Dyan Castillejo of ABS-CBN News.
"We will always support her anytime she needs it from us," Floro also assured. "We truly wish her well."
Saso is competing in the Toto Japan Classic this week.