Press Release
October 10, 2016

Privilege Speech on Hajj Pilgrimage Passport Controversy
by Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri

Senate Session Hall
10 October 2016

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

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. Each year, millions of Muslims gather in Mecca for this religious ritual. This year, the date of Hajj began on September 9.

Thus, as early as August, Brother Muslims started embarking on their journey to Mecca. On August 18, however, 177 prospective pilgrims were stopped in their tracks as they attempted to depart the Philippines for Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims were carrying Philippine passports or travel documents, so our immigration officials found it suspicious that they were unable to speak Filipino or any Filipino dialect. They were detained, and it was soon discovered that they were in fact not Filipinos, but Indonesian nationals who were carrying authentic, albeit fraudulently obtained, Philippine passports or travel documents.

Mr. President, we commend the Bureau of Immigration officers for their keen eyes and good judgment call for apprehending these Indonesians that unearthed this scam.

The Indonesians are said to have paid as much as 131 million Indonesian Rupiah, or about 460,000 Pesos or 10,000 U.S. dollars to illegal travel agencies who facilitate their hajj journey, which fee includes a Philippine passport.[1]

To better understand this issue, it is worthy to know that Saudi Arabia allocates a hajj quota for each country with a Muslim population, in order to limit the number of pilgrims who arrive each year.[2] Indonesia, having the largest Muslim population in the world, quickly fills up its quota. As such, Indonesians must wait up to thirty-seven (37) years before they can perform the Hajj.[3] Contrast that with the Philippines, where our hajj quota is rarely filled. Thus, this practice of foreign Muslims using Philippine passports was devised. Some of our Filipino Muslim brothers reveal that the Philippine delegation to Mecca during Hajj always includes foreign nationals. Unscrupulous people have taken advantage of the situation by coming up with an elaborate scheme to provide fraudulent passports to prospective pilgrims.

Mr. President, this is a highly disturbing scheme and should be a huge cause for concern. How were non-Filipinos able to obtain Philippine passports, when many of our own countrymen have difficulty doing so? A passport is not only supposed to be one of the most reliable forms for identification; it is also proof of citizenship. It is an official state-issued document which, under our laws, remains at all times the property of Government. Thus, our Philippine Passport Act says that "no passport shall be issued to an applicant unless the Secretary or his duly authorized representative is satisfied that the applicant is a Filipino citizen" who has complied with the requirements prescribed by law. Other states likewise trust that our passports are genuine and reliable documents bearing truthful information. This fraudulent scheme damages the integrity of our passports and casts doubt on its reliability. "Nakakahiya po ito sa international community."

Further, as the principal sponsor of Republic Act 9997, which established the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, I am alarmed at the reports saying that the passports were issued on the strength of certifications issued by the NCMF.[4] The NCMF facilitates the hajj pilgrimage of Filipino Muslims, ensuring that they fall within the hajj quota. In short, all Filipino Muslims must go through the NCMF in order to perform the hajj. Has the NCMF been so careless, or is their procedure so lax, that they issue certifications to non-Filipinos? Or are they more deeply involved in this fraudulent processing scheme, which has allegedly been institutionalized in the Commission?[5]

During the committee deliberations of the NCMF law, I have made it on record and have raised it, both in the committee hearing and in private meetings with the officials of the Office of Muslim Affairs or OMA, the predecessor of NCMF. My fear was that the Hajj pilgrimage could be used by NCMF officials for corruption. I have issued a stern warning to the then OMA officials not to use for corruption the Hajj pilgrimage process and not use it as a tool to enrich themselves. My fear now is happening.

I remember during the hearings that I learned that their travel kits were being sold by two of the OMA Directors. Likewise, other official documents such as birth certificates were allegedly issued by local civil registrars as part of the requirements to obtain the passports. I wish to stress that these are not fake, but genuine documents containing false information, which were issued by government offices.

Finally, if reports we gathered are true, why did the Department of Foreign Affairs allow the issuance of passports without requiring the personal appearance of the applicant? We Filipinos have to comply with the strict rules for passport issuance. We appear personally before the officials of DFA, submit the proper documents, wait in line, like I have to wait in line when I renew my passport, to have our photo and biometrics taken, and sometimes wait for months before our passport is finally issued. And yet, this entire process was unceremoniously abandoned in favor of crooked individuals who take advantage of other people in order to make big bucks. Has there been a grand connivance among private persons and government agencies - from LGUs and the NSO, to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, all the way up to the Department of Foreign Affairs - to facilitate this fraudulent scheme?

Mr. President, the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs has alluded to this as an "organized criminal activity."[6] What if a similar scheme or the same group of unscrupulous individuals will be in cahoots, in exchange for large sum of money, with terrorist groups and facilitate the issuance of Philippines passports to international terrorists? I cannot imagine what kind of damage it will bring our country and our passporting system. Thus, I urge this chamber to direct the proper Senate committees to conduct an investigation on this matter. There is a real and urgent need to put a halt to this elaborate scheme, which involves government officers and employees who make a mockery of official processes, and in effect, prey on our Muslim brethren, as well as jeopardize and comprise our country's primary travel document, making it an easy accessory for the perpetration of crime and acts of terrorism.

Thank you.



[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.



[6] Id, Rappler.

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