Friday July 20, 2018

Lawmaker urges gov’t to evaluate NCMF

TEN years into its existence, it’s high time now to review the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) as a government agency if it has attained its objectives as it is facing various issues, a Muslim legislator said Friday, October 6.

“It is timely that we reevaluate the [NCMF] to determine if it has accomplished anything significant for Muslim Filipinos, and if there is a need to amend and update Republic Act 9997 so that the Commission will be more effective in its mandate for the Filipino people,” said Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, of the 1st District of Lanao del Norte, in a telephone interview on Friday.

Dimaporo has noted that the NCMF was “rocked with scandal” when 177 Indonesian nationals bound for a holy pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia were arrested last year after obtaining “hajj” passports from the Department of Foreign Affairs in coordination with the NCMF.

Reports said the Indonesians were made to pay anywhere between P270,000 to P460,000 so they could be issued the “hajj” (pilgrimage) passport from the Philippines and join the Philippine delegation.

This resulted to the charges of NCMF officials who are facing complaints for violation of Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, Philippine Passport Act, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and estafa, said Dimaporo.

Because of the alleged involvement of some NCMF officials in the racket, Dimaporo said the agency “needs to rebuild its image.”

“They have lost the faith and trust of Muslim Filipino being the lead conspirators in the 2016 hajj passport scandal. We, in the House of Representatives, can help by providing the needed legislation to prevent this abuse from happening again,” he said.

For this, he filed a resolution at the Lower House requesting the Justice and Foreign Affairs departments and the NCMF to provide a detailed briefing regarding their findings in the 2016 hajj passport scandal.

In 2015, Dimaporo said, the country had 8,193 pilgrims who went on a hajj in Saudi Arabia. The NCMF collected $2,020 per pilgrim to cover entrance fees, food in Arafat and Mina, hotel and housing in Mecca and Mina, and insurance.

“With 8,193 pilgrims at $2,020 per pilgrim, the NCMF mutawiff trust fund total $16,549,860. If we assume an exchange rate of P45 to a dollar, that’s equal to P744,745,700. An amount larger than the total NMCF 2018 budget,” the lawmaker said.

He said he had addressed this problem in the NCMF budget briefing under the Committee of Appropriations. The reply of NCMF was that the inadequate lodging, food, and transportation was due to supply and demand.

“Unfortunately for NCMF, they book food, accommodations, and transportation at the last minute, after they’ve collected the mutawiff fee from the pilgrims,” he said, adding that other countries negotiate service contracts for their pilgrims good for 10 to 15 years.

In a separate resolution, Dimaporo has asked concerned government agencies to look into the proposed revolving fund for NCMF so it could pay the 20 percent downpayment required for hajj pilgrimage so they can a meaningful religious experience. The amount needed is P137,620,000 that was submitted to the Department of Budget and Management for funding.

Dimaporo has appealed to government leaders to strengthen the NCMF as an “institution to live up to its essence, and that is to give dignity and representation to productive members of society — your brothers and sisters in Islam, Muslim Filipinos.”