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Indonesian pilgrims returning from Mecca are soon arriving in the country and celebrating their new status as Hajji, but many have seen their wishes to bear the venerable title shattered or may face questions on the validity of their pilgrimage after they resorted to go on the pilgrimage illegally, including posing as Philippine citizens.
The Indonesians faking their identities as Filipinos are expected to be among the first three batches of 1,049 pilgrims that the Philippine authorities and an Indonesian technical assistance team will scrutinize as they arrive in Manila on Monday.
The Indonesian team, comprised of immigration, religious ministry and police officials, would help to expedite deportation of Indonesian citizens who might be found among those arriving, after the Philippines authorities suspected hundreds of the arrivals could be Indonesians and Malaysians, who were using Philippine hajj passports.
“We would assist to verify their identities and determine if they are really Indonesian citizens, because their names and identities are being withheld by the Philippine immigration office,” Heru Santoso, a spokesman for the immigration office said.
The team was sent after the Foreign Ministry last week dispatched a special team to Manila. Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesian nationals and entities abroad who led the team said they held a series of meeting on Wednesday with a task force set up by the Philippine government to deal with the illegal hajj case.
“The meeting agreed on the flow of handling the pilgrims when they arrive in Manila. We expect the flow would ensure that the pilgrims could be deported as soon as possible,” Lalu said in a statement on Thursday.
The first in a string of hajj scams involving Indonesians emerged from the Philippines on Aug 18 when immigration officials at Ninoy Aquino International Airport arrested 177 Indonesians who were about to board their flights to Saudi Arabia. The officials became suspicious when none of them could speak any Filipino dialects despite listing Jolo in the southern Philippines as their addresses. It turned out they were Indonesians using legally obtained Philippine hajj passports but with fake identities and they were going to leave using Philippine’s unused hajj quota.
Further investigation to the case revealed that there could be up to 700 Indonesians that went on the pilgrimage posing as Filipino pilgrims, though many of them could also be Malaysians. In addition, another group of 229 Indonesians, comprised of 155 women, 59 men and 15 minors were detained by the Saudi authorities. They were arrested in two different locations for overstaying and not having the proper hajj permits.
The government has maintained since then that they are victims of hajj scams involving a syndicate in Indonesia and the Philippines, which exploited Muslims eager to skip the lengthy waiting list that could extend as far as 2055 and would go at any length to secure a spot to go to Mecca. President Joko Widodo and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed this view when the latter visited Jakarta on Sep 9.
A majority of the 177 Indonesians arrested in Manila – half of them were from South Sulawesi – have returned, while nine of them stayed behind for investigation purposes.
Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI) secretary general, Muhammad Jafar Hafsah urged the government to improve its hajj management and impose stricter evaluation on the annual event.
Jafar said in a statement that it has become normal for many Indonesian pilgrims to register to go on hajj through other countries.
“There are also hajj travel operators that use fake visas from other countries. This is a work of mafia and a very serious crime. How could they manipulate this religious ritual to be an illegal trip implicating other countries,” Jafar said.
Indonesia is seeking ways to have more hajj quota next year in a bid to shorten its aspiring pilgrims’ waiting list that extends for decades and to avoid further embarrassment after hundreds of its citizens were found to have performed the mandatory religious ritual illegally this year, including posing as pilgrims from another country.
But Yahya Cholil Staquf, a top cleric from Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama said there is more to the pilgrimage woes than getting more quota allocation.
“What is important is not to have more pilgrims but to ensure their security during the pilgrimage,” Yahya said, adding that the quota allocation is basically set to ensure a safe and comfortable pilgrimage.
He also urged the government to issue a regulation about senior citizens of 60 years old and above who have not had the chance to perform the hajj.
“We need to make their departure a priority so they can go on the pilgrimage as soon as possible with a management and services that cater to their needs,” Yahya said.
Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI) secretary general, Muhammad Jafar Hafsah said in a statement that the government needs to improve its hajj management and impose stricter evaluation on the annual event.
“There is a high demand and people can afford to go but they can’t due to limited quota. Even if they could finally go, they would be too old or probably already die by then,” he said.
Religious Ministry inspector general, M. Jasin said the religious affairs ministry has been beefing up efforts to lobby the Saudi government since last year to have the quota for Indonesia reinstated to its normal 211,000.
“We are confident that in 2017 our quota will be back to normal,” Jasin said.
The quota is allocated based on one per 1,000 out of each country’s Muslim population. Indonesia has been dealing with quota woes for the past three years after the Saudi government lowered quota for hajj-sending countries to make room for the renovation of Grand Mosque in Mecca. This year, Indonesia had 168,000 quota, a further reduction from last year’s 178,000 and the quotas were from far enough to accommodate Muslims who aspire to perform the annual ritual.
Jasin added that he is optimistic Indonesia could have more quota of about 240,000 or one percent out of its total population, considering that the holy mosque would have bigger capacity to accommodate more pilgrims after the renovation is finished.
Religious affairs ministry data showed that aspiring pilgrims have to wait 10 years at best to go to Mecca while those in some regions in Sulawesi have to wait the longest extending to 2054 and 2055.
The Philippine authorities found earlier this month that up to 700 foreigners, most of them believed to Indonesians and Malaysians, had gone on the pilgrimage posing as Philippine citizens. Last month, immigration officials at Ninoy Aquino International Airport arrested 177 Indonesian pilgrims who were posing as Philippine citizens as they were about to board their flights to Saudi Arabia, while another group of 229 Indonesians were detained by the Saudi authorities earlier this month for overstaying their visas and not having the proper hajj permits.
President Joko Widodo has also sought ways for Indonesia to use other countries’ unused hajj quota. Joko mentioned about this possibility to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during their meeting in Jakarta on Sep 9, as well as to Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, who is also the second deputy prime minister and defense minister, when they met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China earlier this month.
Joko said that both leaders agreed to Indonesia’s proposal but it would take further detailed calculation and procedure before the plan could actually work, while Duterte also agreed to amicably resolve the matter regarding the Indonesian pilgrims using Philippine passports.
“We would finalise this when King Salman visits Indonesia in October. Hopefully by that time we would know the additional figure for Indonesia’s quota and the possibility to use other countries’ unused quota,” Joko told journalists in Serang, Banten province on Sep 11.
Jasin said Saudi Arabia has to issue a new regulation about using other countries’ quota first before allowing Indonesia to bilaterally seek the countries’ approval to use their unused quotas.
The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is mandatory ritual for adult Muslims who are financially and physically able to do it for at least once in a lifetime. This year, hajj pilgrims in Indonesia had to pay Rp 34,641,000 per person to go on the pilgrimage.
Repeated hajj is also another cause to the lengthy waiting list. The Indonesian Council of Ulemma (MUI) issued a fatwa in 1984 that says once is enough to go on the pilgrimage but many have repeated the ritual multiple times. The fatwa was issued in consideration that others who have not had the chance to go could use the spots in the hajj quota.
In May 2015, the religious affairs ministry issued a ministerial regulation that impose a ten-year gap since the last hajj departure for those who want to do it again.
A Philippine official said Monday that President Rodrigo Duterte did not give the green light for Indonesia to go ahead with the execution of a Philippine woman currently on death row for drug trafficking.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay clarified in a statement that Duterte never gave his Indonesian counterpart the green light to the execution of Mary Jane Veloso, contradicting reported comments from the Indonesian president earlier that day.
“[Duterte] told the Indonesian president that he respects their judicial processes and will accept whatever the final decision they will arrive at regarding her case,” Yasay said.
The clarification came after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that Duterte had told him to proceed with the execution of Mary Jane, according to a statement on the cabinet secretary’s website.
Jokowi said he had discussed the suspended execution of Mary Jane with Duterte during their meeting at the presidential palace when the Philippine president was on his first-ever state visit to a foreign country since he took office on June 30.
“President Duterte said at the time to go ahead with the execution,” Jokowi said, without providing further details.
Emmanuel Pinol, Philippine Agriculture Secretary who was at the meeting, said Duterte never told Jokowi that it was okay to execute Mary Jane, according to Manila Bulletin.
“The president never agreed to execute Mary Jane,” he said.
“What he said was that we respect your law, we will not interfere with your judicial process but we will ask for clemency,” Pinol added.
He also said there was an understanding that Mary Jane’s execution had been postponed indefinitely.
Jokowi said that he told Duterte that Mary Jane had been caught carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin when she was arrested at Yogyakarta’s airport in April 2010, before being sentenced to death in October the same year.
Mary Jane was granted an 11th-hour reprieve on April 29 last year when Philippine authorities requested her testimony in an ongoing legal case in the Philippines after her alleged recruiter Maria Cristina Sergio and her partners were arrested.
Duterte made no reference to Mary Jane’s case in a joint press statement after their meeting, even though he had said before his visit to Indonesia that he would ask Jokowi to grant Mary Jane leniency.
However, he said that Indonesia and the Philippines w seeking ways to intensify cooperation against illegal drugs as part of their efforts for a drug-free Asean.
“We share the deep concern over the trade in illicit and illegal drugs and its impact on our societies,” Duterte said.
Police General Budi Gunawan, who was embroiled in allegations of corruption two years ago, has been appointed by President Joko Widodo as the country’s new National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief, raising concerns among reform organizations over the integrity of the nomination process.
Jokowi withdrew the appointment of Budi as National Police chief in 2015 following widespread public opposition after the officer was named a corruption suspect by the Corruption Investigation Commission.
He later was appointed National Police deputy chief after he won a court case challenging his suspect status.
Budi was also promoted to the rank of four-star general by presidential decree, creating another public fuss as traditionally there only the National Police Chief is entitled to the full general rank. Tito Karnavian, the head of the national police, took the promotion lightly, claiming that despite the fact that there are now two active police generals, he and Budi worked for different institutions.
The appointment and promotion are widely perceived as politically driven, as the controversial general served as longtime adjutant to Megawati, who is also Jokowi’s political patron. A former Indonesian president, she has chaired the PDI-P for 20 years.
“The promotion was probably granted as compensation because he failed to become National Police chief. If so, then it is more politically driven than a professional assessment” Bambang Widodo Umar, an expert in the police from University of Indonesia, was quoted as saying by local media, kompas.com.
The KPK suspected that Budi had accepted bribe money from a businesswoman when he was chief of the police’s Career Development Bureau from 2004 to 2006.
Responding the KPK’s move, the National Police named the commission’s leaders suspects in separate old cases in what many believed to be an attempt to intimidate the agency.
The police even arrested KPK deputy chief Bambang Widjojanto for alleged perjury when he was a defense lawyer. Bambang’s arrest outraged the public, including national figures who openly supported Joko Widodo during his presidential campaign.
The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) has questioned Budi’s nomination as spy chief, saying Budi’s integrity is questionable as he was once a graft suspect.
The rights group further criticized Jokowi for the nomination, saying he had again decided to name a public official without considering their track record.
In the recent cabinet reshuffle, Jokowi appointed Wiranto, who has a questionable human rights track record, as coordinating political, legal, and security affairs minister, as well as giving the energy and mineral resources minister post to Arcandra Tahar, who shortly after his appointment was dismissed for allegedly holding dual citizenship.
Before being inaugurated, however, Budi passed a screening process by the House of Representatives Commission I overseeing security and foreign affairs. All 10 political party factions approved his sole candidacy for the position as National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief in a hearing on Sept. 7.