Philippines: Duterte Fires Official over Hajj Passports Issued to Indonesians

Jojo Riñoza
Manila
2021-06-01
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Philippines: Duterte Fires Official over Hajj Passports Issued to Indonesians Overseas Filipino Workers enter a departures area at Ninoy Aquino International Airport near Manila, Jan. 23, 2020.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

President Rodrigo Duterte has fired a Department of Foreign Affairs official over 177 passports wrongfully issued to Indonesians traveling on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia via the Philippines more than four years ago.

Meanwhile, the Philippine labor department during the weekend lifted a ban on Filipino workers being deployed to Saudi Arabia, only two days after imposing it over concerns that the migrants would have to pay for COVID-19 health and safety measures required for working in the kingdom.

During his weekly address to the nation late Monday night, President Duterte announced the dismissal of Khalid Ali Mapandi, a veteran official at the foreign office who had been under investigation since 2016 for allegedly arranging passports for Indonesians seeking to go on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

“The Indonesians that could not go there went to the Philippines and they were given passports as Filipinos. Khalid Mapandi did this. He is dismissed,” Duterte said, referring to how Indonesians had skirted national quotas allotted to countries from where Muslims seek to undertake the pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city.

Mapandi was fired for “grave misconduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and violating reasonable rules and regulations for the illegal issuance of Philippine Hajj passports to 177 Indonesians,” Duterte said.

Mapandi had been transferred during an investigation, which began in November 2016, but was allowed to continue working. Authorities did not say why the investigation took so long.

Long-time employee

Mapandi was a long-time contractual DFA employee and had been the focal person in the passport division, according to authorities.

The 177 Indonesians were detained in August 2016 after they tried to pass themselves off as Filipinos bound for a pilgrimage trip to Saudi Arabia, but immigration officials grew suspicious because they could not respond in the Filipino language. They were detained and later freed, but the department temporarily stopped issuing Hajj passports.  

Trips to Mecca were tightly controlled by foreign affairs officials, Duterte said.  

The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam. Each adult Muslim is required to perform the Hajj at least once in his or her life. 

Not all Filipino Muslims can perform the Hajj using regular passports because many of them, especially older people, lack birth certificates. The Philippine government issues special travel documents, Hajj passports, to those Muslims who want to travel to Mecca.

Travel ban lifted

In other news related to Saudi Arabia, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Saturday lifted the deployment ban on Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) going to that country after receiving “official communication” from Riyadh that employers of Filipino workers would foot the bill for their coronavirus health and safety protocols. 

He had ordered the ban on Thursday over concerns about the lack of clear and expressed guidelines from Saudi Arabia about who would bear those costs. About 280 Filipinos workers bound for the Middle East country were not allowed to leave the airport after the ban was announced.

Labor group Migrante International, which represents the country’s overseas Filipino workers, protested Bello’s ban as unacceptable.

“It does not help, but rather punishes, Filipinos who want to work in the KSA, especially those who have already processed their papers,” it said, using an acronym for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

More than 1 million Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia. Last year, those workers sent home nearly U.S. $2 billion (95.5 billion pesos) in remittances, according to government figures. Those workers are considered a major part of the Filipino labor force and have a role in keeping the economy afloat.

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