FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Tuesday said he would recommend the “permanent” suspension of the issuance of hajj passports once an investigation shows evidence of abuse.
During the budget hearing of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) at the House of Representatives, Yasay said he was inclined to suspend the issuance of passports used for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, especially that lawmakers are proposing to extend the validity of regular passports to 10 years from five years.
He earlier ordered a temporary suspension of the issuance of the hajj passports.
“I have issued an order for the immediate suspension of the issuance of these hajj passports pending the outcome of the investigation. I am predisposed at this point to make the suspension on a permanent basis by making representations with Congress as they deliberate on the law that will extend the term of the passports from five years to 10 years,” Yasay said.
On August 19, a total of 177 Indonesians who posed as Filipino citizens, along with five Filipinos, were barred by the Bureau of Immigration from boarding their flight to Madinah, Saudi Arabia, for the hajj.
Seized from them were Philippine passports believed to have cost from $6,000 to $10,000 each. The Indonesians were immediately detained.
“It is believed … that while only 177 Indonesians were apprehended, maybe perhaps more have avoided detection or may not have been caught or apprehended by our immigration officials,” Yasay said.
He said the hajj passports were issued by the DFA-Aseana office in Parañaque City (Metro Manila).
“The main bulk of these passports, as I understand were issued through our Aseana office here in Metro Manila and they were issued simply on the basis of certifications coming from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos,” the Cabinet official said.
Yasay said the issuance of the hajj passports require certification from the commission.
“Again, I guess the motivation was for a good reason and the issuance of a hajj passport was simply to facilitate our Muslim brothers and sisters who would like to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca and to be able to immediately have the documentation for that purpose,” he added.
“Now we are undertaking an investigation of this because, apparently, laxity has been abused where fraudulent transactions had been made to enable citizens of other countries to use the quota of the Philippines in going to Mecca for the pilgrimage,” Yasay said.
Yasay said DFA officials have no person-to-person contact with passport applicants.