MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Immigration authorities at Manila's airport intercepted 177 Indonesians carrying Philippine passports before they boarded a flight Friday to Saudi Arabia.
Five Filipinos escorting the Indonesians on a hajj pilgrimage were also apprehended as the passengers were about to leave for Medina, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said.
The real but fraudulently obtained passports were allegedly provided by the group's Filipino escorts, Morente said. The Indonesians allegedly paid $6,000 to$10,000 each to join the pilgrimage under a quota the Saudi government reserves for Filipino pilgrims.
The immigration chief said the passengers' identities were revealed because they could not speak any Philippine language or dialect. They later admitted to be Indonesians who arrived in the country separately as tourists.
Morente ordered the immediate filing of immigration charges against them for misrepresenting themselves as Filipinos and for being undesirable aliens. They are being detained at the bureau's detention center in suburban Taguig City.
The bureau is coordinating with the Indonesian Embassy to establish their identities prior to deportation, and with the Department of Foreign Affairs and other law enforcement agencies in investigating the fraudulent issuance of Philippines passports, he added.
The immigration bureau said it investigated and monitored the group after President Rodrigo Duterte said foreigners were using Philippine passports allegedly provided by corrupt officials handling the pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia applies strict country quotas to manage crowd safety for the hajj, which Islam requires of all-able bodied Muslims at least once. But the quota is far exceeded by demand in Indonesia, which is the world's most populous Muslim country.