SENATOR Juan Miguel Zubiri has asked the Senate leadership to direct the proper Senate committee to probe an alleged passport racket that recently victimized a group Indonesian Hajj pilgrims.
In a privilege speech on Friay, Zubiri cited the need to put a stop to the elaborate scheme, which involves government officers and employees who make a mockery of official processes and in effect prey on Muslim Filipinos.
Such scheme, if not stopped, could jeopardize and comprise the country’s primary travel document, making it an easy accessory for the perpetration of crime and acts of terrorism, he said.
The senator was referring to a incident that happened early August wherein 177 prospective pilgrims bound for Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj were stopped as they attempted to leave the country.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam.
It is the annual pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, which each Muslim must undertake at least once in his lifetime.
The pilgrims were carrying Philippine passports but were later discovered by immigration officials that they are not Filipinos because of their inability to speak and understand Filipino or any Filipino dialect.
They were detained and were soon discovered that they are Indonesians who were carrying authentic, but fraudulently obtained, Philippine passports.
It was also learned that the Indonesians reportedly paid as much as 131 million Indonesian Rupiah, or about P460,000 to unscrupulous travel agencies who facilitate their hajj journey, including the issuance of Philippine passports.
Indonesia, having the largest Muslim population in the world, quickly fills up its yearly quota and Indonesian must wait up to 37 years before they can perform the Hajj.
The Philippines, on the other hand, has rarely filled its quota and it could be the reason why the practice of foreign Muslims using Philippine passports was devised.
What is alarming, according to Zubiri, is that the passports were reportedly issued by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, which facilitates the Hajj pilgrimage of Filipino Muslims, ensuring that they fall within the hajj quota.
This means that all Filipino Muslims must go through the NCMF in order to perform the hajj.