Congress should review hajj coordination program – Hataman

Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual hajj pilgrimage in their holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia Aug. 8, 2019. (File photo by WALEED ALI / Reuters)

MANILA, Philippines — House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman is calling on the 19th Congress to review the hajj pilgrimage coordination program of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) after around 1,000 pilgrims were stranded in airports despite having tickets and passes.

The pilgrims, who said they had coordinated with NCMF for the holy trip, complained of not being to secure travel visas, according to Hataman, who represents the Lone District of Basilan.

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“The hajj is one of the most important parts of the lives of Muslims,” Hataman said in Filipino in a statement issued on Monday. “Anone who can travel and achieve this once in their life is lucky. So it’s sad news that many will not be able to experience it this year because of a mistake or neglect of some people.”

“We should find out why this is happening. The NCMF has funds for arranging the hajj for our Muslim countrymen, but why is there a snag like this? We should hold accountable all those responsible for this mess,” he added.

Last June 23, the NCMF spokesperson, Commissioner Yusoph Mando, assured Muslim Filipinos who were barred from leaving from June 19 to 21 that the the NCMF was working on arranging new flights and the issuance of visas.

This should allow them to join the pilgrimage, which starts on July 7.

Hataman said the government should determine whether the NCMF coordination process was still effective or if it should be handled by a private sector partner, as other countries had been doing.

“Was someone neglectful? Did someone make a mistake? Where’s the snag? These are the things we will look into during our investigation,” he said.

One of NCMF’s tasks is to coordinate with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for Filipinos traveling to Mecca for the annual hajj.

According to Hataman, the Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment handles these communication and coordination processes.

The lawmaker said other government agencies should also look into the issue, considering that a lot of people had set aside a lot of hard-earned money for the pilgrimage.

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With this in mind, Hataman said the trips of the stranded pilgrims should not be delayed.

“Moral governance requires us to be pro-active in looking after the welfare of these stranded Muslim pilgrims. A lot them are forced to spend what should be their pocket money for the hajj. They might no longer have anything left for their daily needs. I hope they can be reached, interviewed, and helped. They should not be left alone to fend for themselves.”