THE Bureau of Immigration seized the special hajj passports presented by travelers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in a bid to weed out Indonesians who supposedly acquired Philippine travel documents for their pilgrimage to the Mecca.
Immigration Deputy Commissioner Mike Robles said the BI will keep the passports of travelers who went on the hajj but the passport holders can reclaim their passports at the Office of Muslims Affairs or the Department of Foreign Affairs after verification.
The team, led by BI technical assistant for airport operation Leo Ferrer and BI port operation division chief Red Marinas, put up four counters to check the documents of more than 200 pilgrims who arrived at the NAIA 1 and 2 on Sept.19.
Representatives of the Indonesian embassy were also at the NAIA to act as interpreter and to assist their countrymen who may be caught possessing Philippine passports.
Robles said Indonesians caught with Philippines passports will be turned over to the Indonesian embassy and will be deported.
Only recently, a total of 177 prospective pilgrims from Indonesia were caught and deported by immigration authorities for carrying illegal Philippine passports.
The Indonesians attempted to leave for Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj, a mandatory Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims.
The pilgrims were attempting to check into their Philippine Airlines flight, but their inability to speak any Filipino or Filipino dialect raised the suspicion of immigration officials who held their tickets and passports.
Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi said the Indonesians were “victims of organized crime.”
Expectedly, many Filipinos who also went on the hajj complained of harassment after they were held at the airport for as long as two hours.
Immigration officer Dennis Robles said the move is in line with the agency’s increased vigilance against “pseudo Filipinos.” He added they were alerted regarding 300 passengers attending Hajj in Mecca on board Philippine Airlines flight PR659 at 2:15 p.m.
Robles said they were ordered to scrutinize the Philippine passports or travel documents of the hajj participants to make sure that no foreigners might have mingled in their group.
One of the Filipino passengers identified as Amir Mama complained that they spent more than two hours at the holding area before the BI allowed them to go.
But the BI did not find any Indonesian in the group, the immigration officer said.
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