March 14, 2017 / 12:54 PM / in 9 months

Philippines' Duterte quips with American twang to mock minister's downfall

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday poked fun at the dismissal of his foreign minister by lawmakers, delivering jokes in an American accent about a citizenship scandal that led to the downfall of one of his top loyalists.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay gestures during a commission on Appointment hearing at the Senate headquarters in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Showing the comedic style that helped win him an election last year, Duterte mocked former Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, rejected by a house appointments commission last week over his failure to prove he was not a U.S. citizen when he took the job eight months ago.

“I don’t know why I was ousted by the commission on appointments but I did not lie,” Duterte, impersonating Yasay and using an American accent, told a audience of hundreds of mayors.

“If you did not lie, why are you out of the cabinet?” he said to laughs and applause.

Duterte’s remark makes light of what has been one of the biggest embarrassments of his presidency so far. Yasay, a U.S.-trained lawyer, is a member of his inner circle with whom he shared a dormitory while studying law.

Yasay played a crucial role driving Duterte’s policy of diversifying foreign relations beyond ally the United States, describing it as a “shackling dependency”.

In scathing posts on Facebook, Yasay chided Washington for what he said was shirking its treaty obligations to protect the Philippines. He said breaking away was “imperative in putting an end to our nation’s subservience to United States’ interests”.

Yasay was accused by critics of contradicting statements that were made under oath before the appointments commission and during media interviews about his citizenship and passports.

While the commission made no conclusion about his citizenship status, its members agreed unanimously that he was not telling the truth.

Critics say Yasay’s applications to run for the Senate, vice presidency and head of the Securities and Exchange Commission - a post he won - were now in question too.

Yasay has denied lying to the commission.

Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie

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