By Ainur Rohmah
The Philippines has promised to repatriate all Indonesian victims of a scam that allowed them to illegally travel to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage using the Philippines Hajj quota.
The Jakarta Post on Saturday quoted Rodrigo Duterte as saying that as soon as the pilgrims return to the Philippines from Saudi Arabia, the government would allow them to return home without legal proceedings.
"No problem about that. I don't intend to investigate them," he was reported as saying after a bilateral meeting with President Joko Widodo on Friday, on his way home from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Laos.
He said that he considered them to be victims, and not willing perpetrators of identity-fraud -- a crime in the Philippines.
We will be looking for those who had exploited them, he added.
On Sep. 7, Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly announced after an investigation that the pilgrims had travelled to Saudi Arabia using the Philippines quota.
The announcement followed the return of 168 people to Indonesia who were arrested Aug. 19 at Manila airport on seats reserved for pilgrims from the Philippines.
Among them was an elderly couple that had sold a hectare of farmland to pay for the Muslim pilgrimage.
As the recipient of the largest Hajj quota, Indonesia -- the world’s most populous Muslim country, with a population of around 256 million -- sends around 200,000 pilgrims to Mecca and Medina every year for the largest annual gathering of people in the world.
Each Indonesian pilgrim must pay a deposit of around $2,500 and there are currently more than 2 million Indonesians on the waiting list, prompting some to seek alternatives to registering for the pilgrimage from the archipelago.
Residents of South Sulawesi experience the longest queue of up to 32 years.
Philippines officials have confirmed that 177 Indonesians arrested Aug. 19 were carrying genuine Philippine Hajj passports believed to have been acquired through “fraudulent means” in exchange for $6,000-10,000 each.
The 168 nationals were repatriated after authorities cleared them for deportation, but kept nine others in custody for further investigation.
Following the scandal, the Philippines suspended the issuing of Hajj passports to pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia pending the outcome of an investigation.