COTABATO CITY – National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan will serve as official “amirul hajj” or Philippine pilgrims’ delegation this year to the Holy Islamic shrines in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the agency spokesperson announced Friday.
Pangarungan received a copy of his designation dated January 9 from President Duterte on while he and his team were wrapping up on Thursday their 10-day activities in the KSA, NCMF Bureau of External Affairs Director IV Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos said.
The NCMF Charter, R.A. 6667, prescribes for the agency’s automatic designation as “amirul hajj” while in office. But due to absence of full-fledged NCMF secretary last year, President Duterte had named Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 1st Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar as 2018 “amirul hajj,” it was learned.
The President appointed Pangarungan as NCMF head last July 9 and Datu Ramos as NCMF director three months earlier to “institute reforms in the commission long-dogged by anomalies, particularly in the conduct of the annual hajj operation,” a Moro journalist covering for decades the defunct Office on Muslim Affairs and the succeeding NCMF.
Hajj is the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia, one of the fifth pillars of Islam. Every adult Muslim is obliged to perform the hajj in one’s lifetime. Its five-day rituals-filled advent is expected this August, roughly three months after the observance of Ramadhan fasting, another pillar of Islam.
Pangarungan and his entourage, which includes Datu Ramos, were expected to fly back home this weekend after their flight to KSA last January 2 for a 10-day trip required in the preparations for this year’s hajj.
While in KSA, Pangarungan signed a 2019 “mother contract” with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah officials, and negotiated other host authorities on concerns relative to his campaign for “improved” Filipino pilgrims’ plight this year and beyond, Datu Ramos said.
The contract grants the Philippines a quota of 8,000 hajj visas for Filipino pilgrims this year through NCMF, even as the Saudi authorities waived their two-airline policy that authorizes only the Saudia Airline and the Philippine Airline as sole carriers for Filipino hajj goers, Datu Ramos said.
He said the waiver was requested by Pangarungan for a third alternative airline willing to ferry Filipino pilgrims at lower fares per prior negotiations in Metro Manila.
Pangarungan also met Philippine diplomatic officials in KSA, and discussed with them ways and means of preventing prospective Filipino pilgrims from becoming victims of past schemes by “unscrupulous” parties purportedly raking in “hefty kickbacks” from hajj goers’ airfares, hotel accommodation and land-based ferries, Datu Ramos said.
A regular hajj would cost between 200,000 and 250,000 Philippine money per pilgrim nowadays, according to NCMF officials and other sources privy to the annual pilgrimage.
In his Facebook page, Datu Ramos said Sec. Pangarungan is expected to announce with President Duterte anytime this month the lowered official cost of hajj.
Datu Ramos has posted in his page several photos and reports concerning their team’s visit in KSA, including their sidelight performance of umrah (optional and minor hajj) during the final leg of their 10-day trip. (Ali G. Macabalang)