By Ali G. Macabalang
National Commission on Muslim Filipino (NCMF) Secretary Saidamen P. Pangarungan will lead anew this year the Philippine pilgrimage to the Holy Lands of Saudi Arabia after President Duterte named him amirul hajj for the third time.
NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos said the Presidential designation of Sec. Pangarungan was dated March 10, which significantly fell on the eve of the global reckoning of “Lailatul Isra wal Mi’raj” [the night journey of Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w.)] – one of three most important events in Islam.
So far, Sec. Pangarungan has set a record being the only Filipino official appointed by Malacañang as amirul hajj for three consecutive years, according to Datu Ramos.
In the advent of the NCMF and its two preceding agencies – the Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA) and the Philippine Pilgrimage Authority, Malacañang had designated different Muslim personalities including political leaders as amirul hajj only once or twice at maximum, Datu Ramos said.
R.A. 9997, which was enacted on July 27, 2009 to create the commission in replacement of the OMA, prescribes for the automatic role of the NCMF Secretary or at least one of its commissioners as amirul hajj every year. But because of leadership issues in the NCMF, Malacanang had named officials from the outside as amirul hajj, it was learned.
Before the full abolition of the OMA in 2009, then Lanao del Sur Congressman Pangalian Balindong, an author of the House bill for the NCMF creation, was designated amirul hajj for that year, data obtained from Datu Ramos showed.
During the NCMF formal advent, the Palace designated amirul hajj the following: Commissioners Hamid Barra (2010) and Moner Bajunaid (2011); Secretaries Mehol Sadain (2012, and 2013) and Yasmin Lao (2014 and 2015); and two outsiders – TESDA Director General Guiling Mamondiong (2016), and MILF Chief Peace Panelist Gadzhali Jaafar (2017 and 2018), according the same data.
Incumbent NCMF Secretary Pangarungan broke the two-year designation record when the President designated him amirul hajj in 2019, 2020, and this year.
An amirul hajj from every foreign nation is accorded the privilege of meeting the top Saudi officials led by the sitting King during grand receptions every annual major pilgrimage.
The major pilgrimage (hajj) is obliged for all physically and financially capable Muslims to perform once in a lifetime during the month of Dhul Hijjah in lunar calendar as one of the five pillars of Islam. The minor or optional pilgrimage (umrah) can be performed in the Holy shrines of Madina and Makkah anytime of the year.
President Duterte appointed Pangarungan, a lawyer and former governor of Lanao del Sur, as NCMF secretary for a two-year term on July 9, 2018 purportedly to “fix” perennial hitches in the handling of Filipino pilgrimages and in the administrative operations of the agency.
From 2018 to 2019, Sec. Pangarungan had discovered cases of manipulated high plane fares and accommodations in ordinary hotels of Filipino pilgrims, forcing him to institute drastic steps leading to the substantial decrease in fares and improvement in billeting systems with four to five-star hotels, according to earlier reports from Datu Ramos.
During the same period, Datu Ramos said, Pangarungan had terminated the services of some regional directors for alleged office malfeasances and over a dozen of key personnel continuously receiving salaries despite their official appointments rejected by the Civil Service Commission.
The President reappointed Pangarungan last year upon the expiration of his two-year term, even as Congress tasked the NCMF to include in its major functions a campaign against the spread of violent ideology espoused by extremist militants in Moro communities.
Sources said Palace officials have been impressed of Pangarungan’s track record in initiating the concreting of the highway linking Marawi and Cotabato cities during the gubernatorial reign in Lanao del Sur, and of his feat as former Local Government assistant secretary in the abolition of over 1,000 “ghost” barangays in the two Lanao provinces.
Since six or seven years ago, the NCMF has been registering an average of 7,000 Filipino pilgrims per hajj, though the Saudi government – purportedly in sympathy with the Philippines as a Catholic nation with minority Muslims – is allowing a maximum of 15,000 pilgrims’ quota.
The quota, however, was allegedly exploited by past OMA and NCMF officials to allow the entry of transient pilgrims from Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim nations that have been meeting their respective quotas yearly. This illegal scheme, allegedly reeking with bribes from transient pilgrims, was stopped by Sec. Pangarungan in 2018, Philippine Muslim Today news sources said. (AGM)