March 9, 2017 2:42 pm JST

Duterte changes diplomatic guard amid ASEAN chairmanship

First nominee rejected, Philippines' former ambassador to UK is promoted

CLIFF VENZON, Nikkei staff writer

MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday promoted Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo to the country's top diplomatic position, on an interim basis, after a congressional committee rejected Perfecto Yasay, the original nominee.

On Wednesday, the 15-member Commission on Appointments unanimously denied Yasay's nomination over issues regarding his citizenship.

In the Philippines, nominees can begin their official functions ahead of congressional confirmation.

Yasay, who practiced law in the U.S. and is a friend of Duterte, started working in July 2016. He represented the country in major international gatherings such as the Asia-Europe Summit in Mongolia in July as well as in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in Laos last year. He also accompanied Duterte on state visits, including to China and Japan.

Manalo, a seasoned diplomat, was the Philippines' ambassador to the U.K. before becoming a deputy minister last year. 

The change comes amid Manila's chairmanship of ASEAN, as well as efforts by Duterte's government to rebalance foreign policy, which has been heavily reliant on the U.S., a strategic ally. Duterte has moved to improve ties with Beijing despite a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Ernesto Abella, Duterte's spokesman, said Manalo will hold the position until the president names a new secretary.

"Undersecretary Manalo is an excellent transition man and has been on top of many crucial issues together with Attorney Perfecto Yasay," Abella said.

Duterte last year said he would offer the top diplomatic post to his defeated vice presidential candidate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who is barred from taking a cabinet post within year after the election.

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