By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – A delegation of foreign diplomats visited the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) recently, making it the first time that such a high-caliber international group paid call on the agency since its inception in 2009.
The visiting team was comprised of Palestinian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Dr. Mazen Shamiya, Palestine Ambassador to Malaysia and Philippines Walid Abu Ali, and Head of Asian and Australian Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ms. Yuad Hamdallah.
NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos said the visitors were accompanied by Norman A. Padalhin, executive director and protocol officer of the Middle East and African concerns of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The record-setting visit was “timely with the recent initiatives of the NCMF (against) violent extremism (with) focus on developing interfaith communication (among the youth and other sectors) in the Philippines,” Datu Ramos said.
In their meeting with NCMF officials, led by Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan, early this month, the visitors wished for stronger diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Palestine that would “promote tolerance…towards communities of peace and shared culture,” the agency spokesman said.
He said the foreign envoys particularly “offered support for the NCMF programs (on extending) relief aid for our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, especially those who are in most need of assistance.”
“They lauded President Rodrigo Duterte for appointing Secretary Pangarungan to strengthen the NCMF operations, taking cognizance of current reforms in the agency,” Datu Ramos said.
The visitors also “invited Pangarungan and his key staff to visit Palestine in reciprocation of their coming,” he said.
He said the visit of the foreign envoys was the first in the history of NCMF, which was created under R.A. 9997 of 2009. Under such law, the NCMF replaced the Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA).
OMA was established under the Marcos government to provide focal attention to the welfare of Muslim Filipinos in the country.
Muslim lawmakers, notably Rep. Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur, who authored the NCMF charter, pushed for the enactment of the law for purposes of fixing the office tenure of the agency leadership. They noted that politics had caused frequent change guards in OMA to the detriment of the agency institutionalized services and projects.