THE Bureau of Immigration held another 19 “fake Filipinos” at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport who returned to the country after attending the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
The 19 were among the more than 200 Indonesians and Malaysians who were able to get Philippine passports at the Department of Foreign Affairs, but are different from the regular passports issued only to Filipino hajj pilgrims.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said seven of the 15 Indonesians were intercepted at the Naia 2 terminal while seven others were stopped at the Naia 1.
“Four Malaysians and another Indonesian also arrived at the Naia 2 last Sunday,” Morente said.
Morente said BI intelligence agents were able to identify the Indonesians after their presence aboard the planes was reported by three of their compatriots who are Sheiks and traveled with them.
“The Sheikhs readily admitted they were traveling with other Indonesians with assumed Filipino names and Philippine passports,” the BI chief said.
He added the three Sheiks were turned over to the National Bureau of Investigation which will probe their possible involvement in the passport scam.
As for the Malaysians, Morente said their identities were revealed after they were subjected to intense evaluation by immigration officers upon their arrival.
From the airport, the foreigners were brought to Villamor Golf and Country Club to undergo debriefing and questioning by an inter-agency task force composed of representatives from the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Justice, BI, NBI, and the Indonesian and Malaysian embassies in Manila.
They were subsequently released on recognizance to their embassies which will arrange their repatriation and give them their travel documents.
Morente also directed the conduct of a parallel investigation to determine whether or not any immigration personnel was involved in the successful departure of these pilgrims last August.
The passport scam involving foreign Hajj pilgrims was uncovered last Aug. 19 when BI officials at the Naia intercepted 177 of them as they were about to board a Philippine Airlines flight to Medina, Saudi Arabia.
President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to release and send the Indonesians home, saying they were victims of unscrupulous individuals who provided them the Philippine passports they would use to travel and join the Hajj pilgrimage, using quotas reserved for Filipinos by the Saudi government.
Several suspects allegedly responsible for the passport racket are now being investigated by the DoJ prior to the filing of charges in court.