By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Two female hajj goers from the Philippines were held briefly by Saudi immigration officers upon arrival in the Muslim Kingdom on Sunday due to a glitch in their printed e-visa, according to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
The pilgrims, Imelda D. Dibagelen from Maguindanao and Sinaab U. Latip from Lanao del Norte were immediately allowed to join their respective hajj teams following prompt coordination between Philippine and Saudi diplomatic officials.
“Swift responses by higher authorities, particularly Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Adnan Alonto and Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Dr. Abdullah bin Nasser al-Bussairy, ended the brief stint of the two pilgrims at the airport immigration office,” NCMF spokesperson Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos said.
The two envoys vouched for the NCMF hajj supervisory team’s justification that the issue at hand was due to a “misprint” in the e-visa of the two pilgrims, he said.
Ambassador Alonto corroborated the report, saying it was a case of “brief misunderstanding” caused by the “new visa system being implemented” in the Muslim Kingdom.
“And we did our duty to our people to serve, defend, and protect them (Filipino pilgrims) from any harm or inconvenience,” said Alonto, who lauded NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan for his administration’s improved arrangements for hajj goers from the Philippines this year.
Manila Bulletin sources said the sheikhs of the two stranded pilgrims had promptly contacted the NCMF supervisory party about the problem, using global phone SIM cards provided this year under Sec. Pangarungan’s watch of the hajj process.
Pangarungan, who was appointed NCMF head in July 2018 by President Duterte, is flying to Saudi Arabia on July 26 to personally supervise Filipino pilgrims as “amirul hajj” (delegation chieftain) this year, Datu Ramos said.
Datu Ramos said there are 7,163 Filipino delegates, 6,973 of them pilgrims, booked in 34 flights by Saudia Airline and Oman Air this year. The first flights left on July 10 and the last services will be on July 31, he said.
Performance of hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, mandated for every capable Muslim at least once in a lifetime.
The NCMF, which reportedly provided an expanded supervisory and medical team this year, is hopeful that this year’s hajj will incur no mortality among Filipino pilgrims. Earlier reports showed that six Filipino pilgrims succumbed to mostly old-age ailments in last year’s pilgrimage.