By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY — The annual hajj or pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia will be “more affordable” for followers of Islam in the Philippines starting this year, according to Malacañang and the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the NCMF, which is under the Office of the President, has made possible the addition of a third airline that was recently granted landing rights by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj.
“We encourage Muslim Filipinos to avail of the reformed and improved services of the NCMF and fulfill their spiritual aspiration of making a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia,” Panelo said in a statement.
“For 2019, (Islamic pilgrimage) has become more affordable. Before, only two airlines were given landing rights by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj,” he added.
He said that with the addition of a third airline this year, a pilgrim will enjoy savings of P11,664 up to P30,214.
“This level of reduction in the cost of performing the Hajj is unprecedented – a result of our successful negotiation with Saudi Arabian authorities which waived their two-airline policy and allowed a third airline to operate with a lower airfare offer,” he added.
The Saudi government waived its two-airline policy at the request of NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan, who travelled to Saudi Arabia and negotiated with the host country’s Ministry of Hajj for the additional landing rights.
Saudi’s two-airline policy usually authorizes only the flag carriers of the Kingdom and the Philippines. But the waiver now allows the shuttling of Filipino pilgrims by a third airline, particularly the flag carrier of Oman, which offers airfare lower by as much as P11,000 to P30,000, NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos said.
Datu Ramos said Pangarungan were also able to seal agreements with Saudi authorities, assuring the billeting of Filipino pilgrims only in four or five-star hotels that are nearer to the places of hajj rituals in Makkah and Madinah cities.
“Those (agreements) would end past scheming practices of billeting Filipino pilgrims in distant and lower class hotels costing as high as the rates of four or five-star hotels,” he said.