BUREAU of Immigration (BI) authorities at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have intercepted an additional 15 Indonesians and four Malaysians who were disguised as Filipinos upon their return from the Hajj pilgrim in Saudi Arabia.
The latest discovery brings to 197 the total number of Indonesians and Malaysians who were found to be holders of Filipino passports.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente on Wednesday said seven of the 15 Indonesians were intercepted at the NAIA Terminal 2 on September 22 while the seven others were stopped at the NAIA Terminal 1 on September 24.
The four Malaysians and another Indonesian also arrived at the Terminal 2 last Sunday.
Morente said BI intelligence agents were able to identify the Indonesians after their presence aboard the plane was reported by their Muslim sheikh compatriots on board the same auircraft.
“The sheikhs readily admitted that they were traveling with other Indonesians with assumed Filipino names and Philippine passports,” the BI chief added.
Morente said the three Muslim elders were turned over to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which will probe their possible involvement in a passport scam.
He added that identities of the Malaysians were revealed after they were subjected to intense evaluation by immigration officers upon their arrival.
From the airport, the foreigners were brought to Villamor Golf and Country Club to undergo debriefing and questioning by an inter-agency task force composed of representatives from the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Justice, BI, NBI and the Indonesian and Malaysian embassies in Manila.
They were subsequently released on recognizance to their embassies, which will arrange their repatriation and give them their travel documents.
Morente ordered a parallel investigation to determine whether or any immigration personnel were involved in the successful departure of these pilgrims last August.
The passport scam involving foreign Hajj pilgrims was uncovered last August 19 when BI 0fficials at the NAIA intercepted 177 of them as they were about to board a Philippine Airlines flight to Medina, Saudi Arabia.
President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to release and send the Indonesians home, saying they were victims of unscrupulous individuals who provided them the Philippine passports that they would use to travel and join the Hajj pilgrimage, using quotas reserved for Filipinos by the Saudi Arabian government.
Several suspects allegedly behind the passport racket are now subject of preliminary investigation by the DOJ prior to the filing of charges in court. WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL