DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 July) — Moro rebel leader Ghazali Jaafar, this year’s Amirul Hajj (head of the Philippine Hajj mission), has vowed to work for better accommodation and transportation facilities in Saudi Arabia as well as lower plane fare for Filipino pilgrims to Mecca.
“There must be changes from the present situation to a much better situation such as better accommodation in Saudi Arabia, better transportation facilities, and in the Philippines, to lower the rate of airplane fares to a much more affordable fare,”
Jaafar, the 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said.
President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Jaafar as Amirul Hajj for the 2017 Hajj Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on August 30 to September 4.
For Muslims, Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad.
Jaafar is presently chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which will submit the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacanang on Monday, July 17.
The appointment of Jaafar as Amirul Hajj was dated July 10, the second time this year that President Rodrigo Duterte named him to a government post. The BTC is under the Office of the President.
Last year’s Amirul Hajj was Guiling Mamondiong , head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Abdullah Mama-o, Presidential Adviser on OFW Affairs told MindaNews in Marawi City on July 6 that he was supposed to be this year’s Amirul Hajj but he declined because of the ongoing Marawi Crisis.
“I was supposed to be the Amirul Hajj for this year but I told the President after Cabinet meeting that I am declining (it) because I do not want to be away and I have been also deeply affected emotionally with this problem (in Marawi). My relatives are in all corners of this city,” Mama-o said.
Jaafar is not the first Moro rebel leader named to be Amirul Hajj. Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) served as Amirul Hajj.
Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, spokersperson of the MNLF faction under Misuari said Misuari served the post twice while he was Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Jaafar said he appreciates “so much” the President’s appointment.
“On behalf of my family, I appreciate so much the trust and confidence given to me by our beloved President Rodrigo Roa Duterte,” Jaafar told MindaNews in a text message.
“This is another big task with gargantuan responsibilities,” said Jaafar, whose appointment was coursed through the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Jaafar said he hopes to introduce several changes in this year’s Hajj.
He said the Hajj is a sacred religious obligation of every Muslim but there are Muslims who take advantage of the Hajj by doing business. “Nangungumpra sila ng mga paninda para ibenta pagdating sa kanilang lugar” (They shop for goods to sell when they get back home).
He said several pilgrims have complained about poor transport services as well as hotel accommodation “compared to Hajj performers from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia na five star ang accommodation sa kanila.”
“There must be change from the present situation to a much better accommodation in Saudi Arabia, God-willing,” Jaafar added.
Jaafar said he intends to negotiate with airline companies to make the plane fare to Mecca more affordable for pilgrims.
As early as January this year, the NCMF together with the Office of the Cabinet Secretary facilitated the Hajj Multi-Stakeholders Planning Workshop “to bring all stakeholders together to jointly collaborate in identifying the systems, policies, and procedures in administering, managing, supervising the annual Hajj with the end product of generating sustainable policies and direct actions that can be implemented by concerned government agencies to ensure smooth and hassle-free Hajj operations.”
Those who sign up for Hajj pilgrimage are required to have a Hajj passport and a Sheik to lead the pilgrims once in Saudi Arabia, “thus the demand for travel agencies to process pilgrim applications and Sheiks.” The planning workshop noted that as with any other demand, “exploitation comes in many forms when various stakeholders come into play; and despite the Commission’s attempts to monitor these agencies and sheiks, the risk is borne by the potential pilgrim.”
The planning workshop also intended to make the NCMF, other concerned government agencies and the public “aware of the systems, policies and procedures of the Hajj operations” and to “devise strategies to address the gaps in the Hajj operations in the Philippines and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Atty. Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez, one of the undersecretaries of Office of the Cabinet Secretary, urged workshop participants to be “partners for change and partners for our fellow Muslims in their spiritual journey to Hajj,” to keep them in mind “as we work on our goal to provide them with smooth and hassle-free hajj processes.”
Last year’s major problem was the discovery of 177 Indonesian nationals who were stopped at the airport in Manila for using Philippine passports obtained fraudulently. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)