By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – President Duterte wants 200 indigents Muslim Filipinos to perform Islamic pilgrimage or hajj next year for free, with his office shouldering all their expenses at some P200,000 each.
The good news was announced by National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Sec. Saidamen Pangarungan in his memorandum dated Dec. 2 for his regional and provincial offices to initiate measures and ensure the integrity of the selection process for applicants or nominees to the 200 free slots under the Presidential Hajj Assistance Program.
The Office of the President has been giving the NCMF and the defunct Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA) P10 million or so every hajj season, it was learned.
NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos recalled that President Duterte had promised during an Eid’l Fitr dinner in Davao City on June 6 this year to increase the amount of assistance, purportedly noting that Muslims would prefer to perform hajj over owning a mansion or two.
Hajj, an annual event in the Holy Lands of Saudi Arabia, is mandated for each physically, mentally, and financially fit Muslim to perform at least once in a lifetime as one of the five pillars of Islam.
For the President, according to the NCMF officials, subsidizing the Islamic pilgrimage of indigent Muslims will form part of his administration’s commitment to mend “historical injustices” in the minority ethnic sector.
In the July-August hajj season this year, the NCMF sponsored 7,325 Filipino delegates, 6,973 of them were registered pilgrims, who each spent an average of P200,000 for plane fares, hotel billeting, and other expenses.
The 200 free hajj slots that would amount to P40 million is something that President Duterte, who has Muslim blood by his grand maternal lineage with the Maranao tribe of Lanao, would readily yield “in the name of just peace and coexistence,” Pangarungan told the Manila Bulletin.
During Duterte’s two-decades as mayor until the current administration of his daughter, Mayor Sarah Duterte-Carpio, the Davao City government has been sponsoring the hajj of at least 10 Muslim residents yearly, the NCMF official said.
To select the applicants or nominees for the 200 free hajj slots, Pangarungan’s memorandum created 16 NCMF-run procession centers around the country, Datu Ramos said.
The memorandum requires applicants to be devoted Muslims; certified as indigent by the Department of Social Welfare and Development; be at least 50 years of age; physically and mentally fit; have not performed hajj yet; and possess existing valid passports.
Datu Ramos said the nominees will be selected among the country’s 13 ethnic Muslim tribes and the “Balik Islam” or “Muslim reverts.”
Documents of applicants or nominees must be submitted on or before January 6, 2020 to any of the NCMF designated processing centers in the country.