MANILA—The Bureau of Immigration has turned away a group of 32 Indonesians who had arrived in the country in hopes of obtaining Philippine passports that would supposedly facilitate their pilgrimage to Mecca.
According to BI, its personnel in Tawi-Tawi had uncovered a scheme by a Mindanao-based syndicate to facilitate the pilgrimage of foreign Muslims to Mecca by providing them with Philippine passports so they could avail themselves of the pilgrimage quota allotted to the Philippines by the Saudi Arabian government.
The scheme was apparently hatched by the syndicate to profit from foreign Muslims who could not make the pilgrimage anymore because their respective countries had filled their own quotas from the Saudi government, BI officials said.
The Indonesians recently arrived at the port in Bongao aboard the ship M/V Mid-East but were turned away by immigration border crossing officers who interviewed them on the purpose of their travel to the Philippines, the BI reported.
With the help of an Indonesian immigration officer stationed at the Bongao port who acted as interpreter, the Indonesians confessed that they were to apply for Philippine passports so they could avail themselves of the quota for the pilgrimage allotted to the Philippines.
They said they were to stay at a shelter where they were to be taught how to speak Sinama, the local Tawi-Tawi tongue, while awaiting the release of their Philippine passports.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is a religious duty that must be carried out by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so at least once in his or her lifetime.
The number of pilgrims that can visit Mecca every year is regulated by a quota system for each Muslim country.
Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. already issued an order alerting all BI personnel in the different ports of entry to be on the lookout for foreigners suspected of involvement in the scheme.