THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday reminded Filipino Muslim pilgrims participating in the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) to refrain from getting the services of individuals or organizations promising to facilitate their passport processing in exchange for a fee.
In an advisory, the DFA said only holders of Philippine passports would be accepted for hajj processing by Saudi authorities.
Hajj participants, according to the Foreign Affairs department, may apply for regular passport at any consular office of the DFA after securing a valid online appointment and completion of documentary requirements.
“It is generally advised that hajj participants apply for regular passport at least one year before the pilgrimage to ensure that the travel document is ready and on hand at the time of travel,” the DFA said in a statement.
In August 2016, immigration officers were able to prevent 177 Indonesian pilgrims bound for Saudi Arabia to participate in the hajj.
The pilgrims were carrying authentic Philippine passports but were later discovered by authorities that they were not Filipinos because they cannot speak or understand Filipino or any Filipino dialect.
Further investigation revealed that they paid unscrupulous travel agencies that promised them to facilitate their travel requirements including passports.
Some of them paid as much as 131 million Indonesian rupiah or around P460,000.
They were released later that month upon request of the Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines.
It was also learned that the passports were reportedly issued by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, which facilitates the hajj pilgrimage of Filipino Muslims.
The Philippines rarely fills its quota and it could be the reason why some unscrupulous individuals were able to use the slots for their scheme.
The DFA warned organizations and individuals involved in illegal activities that it would not hesitate to take the necessary lawful action against them.
“The DFA has taken swift administrative investigations on the heels of passport validations in the past and is more determined to ensure that those responsible shall be held accountable for their ill actions,” it said.
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.