Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have so far intercepted 106 Indonesians, 15 Malaysians and six others of still doubtful nationalities who returned from the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia after leaving the country disguised as Filipinos.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the returning foreign pilgrims were discovered as a result of Oplan Janus, an inter-agency project that was initiated following the apprehension last August of 177 Indonesians who attempted to leave the NAIA with genuine Philippine passports.
Authorities later uncovered the operations of a syndicate that sells the Philippine passports to interested foreigners at a hefty price so the latter could join the pilgrimage using the Hajj quotas reserved by the Saudi government for Filipinos.
According to Morente, BI operatives started monitoring the return of the Muslim pilgrims last month when the Hajj pilgrimage ended and that many of the foreigners intercepted returned in droves at the NAIA in the last week of September and first week of October.
Morente also disclosed that authorities have taken into custody 12 sheikhs who accompanied some of the foreign pilgrims in their trip to Manila for investigation on their possible involvement in the racket.
The BI chief said that investigation on the anomaly was still continuing prior to the filing of charges against those involved.
As for the intercepted Indonesians and Malaysians, Morente said the Indonesians were turned over to the custody of their embassy in Manila for the issuance of their travel documents and return to their homeland. The Malaysians, on the other hand, are in the Bureau’s facility in Bicutan.
Meanwhile, BI officials revealed that one of the five Filipinos reported to have died during the Hajj was actually a 68-year-old Indonesian named Samsuddin, who assumed the Filipino name “Murphy Rasam Sahiril” and was purportedly born in Alicia, Zamboanga del Sur.
Investigators said he is one of the estimated 500 Indonesian pilgrims victimized by a syndicate allegedly operating within the Department of Foreign Affairs, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, and possibly National Statistics Office.
The success of Oplan Janus has drawn praise from Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Vitaliano Agurre II who commended all the BI personnel involved in the operation and said “it shows what we can achieve if all members of the DoJ family work together.” (JUN RAMIREZ)