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177 Hajj-bound Indonesians held

Bureau of Immigration officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport yesterday intercepted 177 Indonesians disguised as Filipinos who attempted to leave the country to join the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

BI Commissioner Jaime Mo-rente said five Filipinos who were supposed to escort the aliens in their trip were also apprehended as the passengers were about to board an early morning flight of the Philippine Airlines bound for Madinah, Saudi Arabia.

Morente said all the Indonesians were found in possession of fraudulently obtained genuine Philippine passports allegedly provided by their Filipino escorts who organized the pilgrimage. The Indonesians allegedly paid up to $10,000 (R470,000) each to undertake the travel.

He added that the passengers’ identities were revealed as they could not speak Tagalog, Maranao, Cebuano, or Maguindanao dialect when interviewed and could only converse in English. The passengers’ admission further confirmed the initial findings of the Immigration officials.

Morente declined to reveal the names of the Indonesians and their Filipino cohorts pending further investigation by the BI and other law enforcement agencies.

Initial investigation revealed that the Indonesians were given Philippine passports to enable them to join the hajj pilgrimage, using the quota reserved for Filipino pilgrims by the Saudi government. There were no more available hajj slots for Indonesians, the organizers stated. (Jun Ramirez)