PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has been urged to sack the head of an office in charge of Muslim affairs under the Office of the President over what was alleged to be a P200-million racket involving the processing of Philippine hajj passports being extended to non-Filipino Muslims.
In a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte, concerned employees of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) said the fraudulent pilgrimage passport processing has been going for a long time now under incumbent Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao. The NCMF, which replaced the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA) in 2010, coordinates national and local activities of Filipino Muslims including the yearly religious hajj.
According to the employees, the hajj passports are being issued to Indonesian, Malaysian and other Asian nationals in exchange for P25,000 each, depriving Filipino Muslims the opportunity to be part of the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj prescribes the limit of pilgrims from each country. The quota for the Philippines is set at 8,000 pilgrims, it was learned. The hajj this year is slated on the second week of September.
With the hefty P25,000 per hajj passport, Lao’s detractors said the processing scam would amount to about P200 million.
But NCMF workers sympathetic to Lao said the allegations hurled against the official are the the results of ‘politicking’ within the agency now that the government is under a new administration.
“Of course there would be parties interested to replace her because she’s part of the previous administration. But she’s performing well so why should she be replaced?” they said.
The group said “there were earlier attempts to discredit her but failed.”
It was learned that earlier this year, an NCMF official filed plunder charges against Lao and two other individuals before the Ombudsman but the complainant was the one who was fired by the Aquino government.
The secretary’s critics also mentioned in their letter five personnel and officials of NCMF, personnel of the consular office of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and a number of hajj leaders from Zamboanga City, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan designated by NCMF.
According to the employees, the hajj personnel broker the passports to would-be foreign applicants for P25,000. The passport applicants are then endorsed by the NCMF to the consular office of the DFA as Filipino-Muslim pilgrims. The passports are then released to the NCMF for distribution to would-be pilgrims.
Reports say the limited number of pilgrims set by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj had forced other nationals to join the annual religious pilgrimage using Philippine passports. Flights of Philippine hajj passport holders start today until the first week of September, it was learned.
There were reports last year that an Indonesian citizen who used a Philippine hajj passport died in Jeddah.