SPECIAL REPORT: Too good to be true

By MASIDING NOOR YAHYA | Manila

NCMF bares measures to resolve the crisis affecting Filipino pilgrims

Calls have been expressed in Social Media platforms for top officials in the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and its Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment (BPE) to resign amidst an unprecedented mess they are involved causing too much agony and pains on hundreds, if not thousands of intending Filipino pilgrims this year’s hajj season.

Lawyer Guiling Mamondiong is the present NCMF head while Malo Manonggiring is its BPE director. Mamondiong assumed the commission leadership who was appointed by President Duterte after former secretary Saidamen Pangarungan took over the chairmanship of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

What happened?

Filipino pilgrims bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform one of the important pillars of Islam—Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca—were not allowed to take their supposed flights on June 19, 20, and 21, 2022, because they had no visa to enter KSA for the intended Hajj.

What made it more painful is that while the stranded pilgrims were waiting for their flight for hours day and night at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), nobody ever told them that they could not take their supposed flights for having no visa. There was no one from the NCMF and BPE around to assist them. The hujaj only realized when the airplanes supposed to take them onboard had left them.

Now, the June 19 stranded pilgrims have not yet flown to KSA contradicting whatever measure the NCMF has said to undertake. It is gathered that those who have left are from Lanao del Norte who were able to go, according to reliable sources, because of the intervention of the powerful Dimaporo clan of Lanao del Norte.

Simply put, it is a sheer incompetence on the part of the NCMF and BPE officials. One netizen said he was surprised this happened only now and believed the reason is the change of leadership in the NCMF. Another one whose mother was among those stranded said: Grabe so corruption alam na this, pinipilit nila na ung mga galing (Lanao) norte kasama iyong omi ko na ibigay ang flyt ng taga norte sa mga lanao sur na hindi na dapat un … kagagawan nya talaga, inopn pakala e arga ka ponan non .pagoman pagoman sa bayad.

The NCMF official statement issued on June 23, 2022, signed by Commissioner Yusoph Mando as new spokesman, saying they had undertaken measures in order to resolve the crisis, was not enough to appease the distress of the stranded pilgrims.

Observers consider such statement as too good to be true. The NCMF did not give assurance this mess would not be repeated nor would it guarantee to finally solve the problem until the hajj season this year is over.

In addition, never had the NCMF and BPE accepted that this was their fault. We know most important reason for this crisis is the delay of paying the visa and other payables maybe in the specified portal.

And worst, they did not explain why nobody from the NCMF and BPE was assisting the intending pilgrims at the airport who did not know they were to be stranded.

We understand full payment of the pilgrims were already paid in the month of May but paid only on June 17, 2022. An NCMF press release issued on June 20, 2022, said the commission has fully paid on June 17, 2022, the amount of USD 5,773,920.00 due to ELM for the pilgrimage fee of 3,500 Filipino pilgrims through the PNB.

A source from the NCMF belied the June 17, 2022, and told an observer that the amount was remitted on June 20, 2022. A source from the Kingdom said of another reason why the NCMF kept on holding the money instead of paying it immediately to the Saudi government. It was for Whether it was on June 17, 2022, or June 20, 2022, it does not matter anymore.

What has been done cannot be undone. The agony of the affected Filipino pilgrims will remain an emotional scar in them. While the crisis should serve as a lesson, mistake should be accepted, not argued, nor made as excuse.

In order to avoid this kind of crisis, the best thing to do is for the government to appoint a man of God, expert in Islamic ethics and education like an Aleem, and with experienced in hajj rituals and has wide connection in Saudi Arabia in particular and the Middle East in general. (PMT)

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