Wednesday, August 31, 2016

DFA suspends issuance of hajj passports amid probe on 177 Indonesians

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay suspended the issuance of hajj passports to Filipino pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia pending the results of an internal probe into the case of the 177 Indonesians arrested for using fake Philippine passports.
During the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) budget briefing at the House of Representatives Tuesday, Yasay said he is inclined to end the issuance of hajj passports for good, especially since there are proposals in Congress to extend the validity of passports from five years to 10 years.
“I have issued an order for the immediate suspension of the issuance of these hajj passports pending the otucome of the investigation. I am predisposed at this point to make the suspension on a permanent basis by making representations with Congress as they deliberate on the law that will extend the term of the passports from five years to 10 years to have this hajj passport withdraw completely,” he said.
On August 19, immigration authorities arrested 177 Indonesian nationals disguised as Filipinos as they attempted to leave the Philippines to participate in the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
The Indonesians were about to board an early morning flight bound for Madinah, Saudi Arabia when Immigration personnel stopped them, along with five Filipinos, who were supposed to accompany them in their trip, according to Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Antonette Mangrobang.
Seized from the Indonesians were fake Philippine passports allegedly provided by their Filipino escorts who organized the pilgrimage for $6,000 to $10,000 each person.
Yasay said their investigation showed that the bulk of the fake passports were issued at the DFA’s Aseana office in Metro Manila.
He said the passports were issued based on certifications from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, whose requirements for proof of identification were “quite lax.”
“There was no person to person contact with the actual applicant for the purpose of our contact officials at the DFA to interview them to really determine their identity and proof that they are Filipinos,” Yasay said.
The Cabinet official said he also received information that the Indonesians had a contact within the DFA for the facilitation of the fake Philippine passports.
He said the DFA employee has been relieved of his functions and the agency is now moving toward placing him under preventive suspension.
Yasay said the 177 apprehended Indonesians, initially detained in Bicutan, have already been released to the custody of the Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines.
The BI confirmed this development.
"They were released on recognizance last Friday (August 26) to the Indonesian Embassy upon the request of the Ambassador subject to certain conditions," Mangrobang told GMA News Online.
She did not say what the conditions are although the BI had said the Indonesians were asked to cooperate in the investigation on the passport racket. 
Sixteen prosecutors from the Department of Justice have been assigned to get statements from the Indonesians, who the BI said would be deported soon. 
At present, Yasay said the Philippines is the only country which issues hajj passports for pilgrims to Mecca.
However, he said the issuance of such a passport has been abused since it has “reduced to the barest minimum” the requirements on the applicants’ proof of identification and Philippine citizenship. —with Virgil Lopez/ALG/VVP/KBK, GMA News

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