Indonesians are better off than Filipinos. Unlike Filipinos who have to wait for two months just to book an appointment at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Indonesians can get their own Philippine passports – and faster – for a fee. No wonder our passport has very little credibility abroad.
Just last month, Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers arrested some 177 Indonesians bound for Saudi Arabia at NAIA Terminal 2 as they attempted to leave the country using Philippine passports. Meanwhile, eight Indonesians holding Philippine passports were arrested last week upon their return from the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
It’s a no-brainer that our passport – which serves as proof of one’s nationality/citizenship – is supposed to be issued only to Filipino citizens. In the case of the arrested Indonesians, they were carrying the so-called Philippine “hajj passports” issued by the DFA.
But this “hajj passport” is a mere creation of the DFA. There is no such passport under the “Philippine Passport Act of 1996” (R.A. 8239) and consequently, the issuance of hajj passports is highly questionable, if not outright illegal.
There are only three types of Philippines passports allowed under RA 8239 — the “diplomatic passport” which is for “persons imbued with diplomatic status or are on diplomatic mission” such as the president, vice president, ambassadors, and other government officials while on official mission abroad; the “official passport,” which is issued, among others, to all government officials and employees “on official trip abroad but who are not on a diplomatic mission,” or is “delegates to international or regional conferences,” or have not been given diplomatic status but are traveling on official business and official time; and the “regular passport” issued to “Filipino citizens who are not eligible or entitled to diplomatic or official passports, including government officials or employees going abroad for pleasure or other personal reasons.” This is the passport commonly used by ordinary Filipinos and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to travel abroad.
The hajj passport only came into being after the DFA issued Department Order No. 11-97, or the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the “Philippine Passport Act of 1996.”
Section 3 of the IRR states that “a Filipino Muslim traveler leaving the country for the purpose of pilgrimage to Mecca may be issued a Hajj passport” by merely submitting the following documents: a) OMA [Office of Muslim Affairs] Endorsement; b) OMA Certificate of Tribal Affiliation; c) Joint Birth Affidavit; d) Personal Appearance Guarantee Form signed by OMA.
Incidentally, the functions and powers of the OMA have been taken over by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) in 2009 by virtue of the “National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Act” (RA 9997).
This seemingly innocent provision (Sec. 3) in the IRR creating a “hajj passport” made it very easy for non-Filipinos to obtain a Philippine passport – and provided a loophole for corrupt DFA, NCMF and BI officials to make money.
The introduction of this new type of passport by way of a mere department order is highly irregular since the law (RA 8239) does not even recognize this type of document. The Supreme Court has ruled on numerous occasions that the law cannot be broadened by a mere administrative issuance because an administrative agency like the DFA cannot amend an act of Congress.
We’re sure that this hajj passport racket has been going on for a number of years. And obviously, it’s almost impossible to pull off a stunt as audacious as this one without the conspiracy of highly placed and corrupt officials from the DFA, NCMF and the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
Although they may have caught the Indonesians, BI officials at the airport cannot weasel out of this scandal. With the BI officers’ Gestapo-like interrogation of our simpleminded “kababayans,” it’s almost impossible that any Indonesian could have slipped through undetected unless they were “escorted” or had help from the inside. In fact, were it not for the tip from President Rodrigo Duterte who told BI Commissioner Jaime Morente about foreigners using Philippine passports, this racket would probably not have been exposed.
DFA spokesman Charles Jose tried to downplay the incident saying that the Indonesians were carrying special Philippine hajj passports which are “different from the regular passport.” That, however, is misleading.
Why? Since Philippine law does not permit the issuance of a hajj passport, the passport issued to Muslim Filipinos going to Saudi Arabia, looks like any ordinary passport – and is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the regular Filipino passport.
Truth is, there’s nothing special about the hajj passport – except maybe for its exorbitant price and the ease at which this can be obtained by foreigners.
The arrested Indonesians reportedly paid anywhere from P273,950 (or about US$5,900) to as high as P460,096 (or around US$9,900) in order to go to Mecca on a Philippine passport. With a Muslim population of 203 million, Indonesia’s annual hajj quota of 168,000 is always used up. The Indonesian waitlist to Mecca, now said to be 37 years long, has made the Philippines’ unused hajj quota a very valuable “asset” for corrupt DFA, NCMF and BI officials.
Even if only one-fourth (or 2,000) of our country’s 8,000 annual hajj quota is sold to foreigners, that easily translates to between US$11.8 million (or P566 million) and US$19.8 million (or P950 million) going to the pockets of crooked officials every year!
Foreign Secretary Jun Yasay should get rid of the hajj passport posthaste. No one should be exempted from complying with the documentary requirements and procedures laid down by the “Philippine Passport Act.” As President Digong keeps saying, “Just follow the law!”