MANILA: Philippine pilgrims departing for Hajj are overjoyed with the experience, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos has told Arab News, as the government is employing special measures to accommodate their journey.
In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, Muslims constitute roughly 5 percent of its 110 million population. Most live on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in the central-western province of Palawan.
As 7,500 members of the religious minority are traveling to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage this year, they are enjoying new services at various airports across the Philippines designed to ensure a speedy immigration process during the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.
“It was the first time in the history of the Muslim community performing Hajj that there is a special lane at the airport designated for pilgrims … We can feel their excitement,” National Commission on Muslim Filipinos spokesperson Yusoph Mando told Arab News as Hajj flights from the Philippines started over the weekend.
The first batch of pilgrims was sent off by Antonio Lagdameo, special assistant to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and on arrival in Madinah, they were greeted by the Philippine Embassy staff.
“Just imagine it’s your lifetime dream to do the Hajj, and finally you already have your ticket … Then you see the NCMF and other ranking government officials and a representative of the president, Secretary Anton Lgdameo Jr., all present to send you off,” Mando said.
“They know that the government did everything for them … and we also attribute it to the efforts and support of the Office of President.”
According to NCMF data, the majority of Filipino pilgrims embarking on Hajj this year come from Lanao, Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Cotabato.
As they reach Saudi Arabia, they are attended to by Philippine officials.
“We have a medical team that will be part of the contingent, as well as a supervisory team that will ensure their needs will be attended to. Medical teams were sent already sent ahead of the arrival of the pilgrims,” Mando said, adding that the commission was doing its best to make sure everything went smoothly as many pilgrims, especially senior ones, had waited their whole lives to embark on the journey.
Throughout the process, the pilgrims have also been assisted by Saudi authorities.
“We want the public, especially in the Arab world, to know that we are appreciative of their support and accommodation for the Filipino pilgrims,” Mando said.
“Since time immemorial, we have been accommodated by the Saudi government. We have to tell them that we are thankful. Filipinos are looking up to them.”