Philippines detains 177 Indonesians over haj passport scam
Philippine immigration officers on Friday detained 177 Indonesian nationals who were attempting to travel out of the country on Philippine passports belonging to other people.
Immigration Bureau spokeswoman Major Antonette Mangrobang said the Indonesians were scheduled to board a Philippine Airlines pre-dawn flight for Saudi Arabia to participate in the haj pilgrimage.
Ed Monreal, general manager of Ninoy Aquino International Airport, told a television interview that suspicions were raised after the foreigners were found incapable of speaking and understanding the Filipino language.
According to a statement issued by the Immigration Bureau, an initial investigation revealed that the Indonesians sought to travel on Philippine passports because under a quota system that restricts pilgrims from foreign countries heading to Saudi Arabia, the number of Indonesian places had been filled.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said in the statement the Indonesians each paid US$6,000 to US$10,000 to be able to join the pilgrimage. They claimed to have arrived in the Philippines as tourists in the past few weeks.
Morente said five Filipinos who were supposed to escort the Indonesians were also apprehended by the authorities and are being subjected to further investigation.
The bureau is coordinating with the Indonesian Embassy in Manila to ascertain the identities of the foreign nationals as charges for violation of Philippine immigration laws are being prepared against them, the statement said.