By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan will serve as official “amirul hajj” or Philippine pilgrims’ delegation head this year to the Holy Islamic shrines in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the agency spokesperson announced Friday.
Pangarungan received a copy of his designation dated January 9 from President Rodrigo Duterte while he and his team were wrapping up on Thursday their 10-day activities in the KSA, NCMF Bureau of External Affairs Director IV Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos said.
The NCMF Charter, R.A. 6667, prescribes for the agency’s automatic designation as “amirul hajj” while in office. But due to absence of full-fledged NCMF secretary last year, President Duterte had named Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 1st Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar as 2018 “amirul hajj,” it was learned.
The President appointed Pangarungan as NCMF head last July 9 and Datu Ramos as NCMF director three months earlier to “institute reforms in the commission long-dogged by anomalies, particularly in the conduct of the annual hajj operation,” a Moro journalist covering for decades the defunct Office on Muslim Affairs and the succeeding NCMF.
Hajj is the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia, one of the fifth pillars of Islam. Every adult Muslim is obliged to perform the hajj in one’s lifetime. Its five-day rituals-filled advent is expected this August, roughly three months after the observance of Ramadhan fasting, another pillar of Islam.
Pangarungan and his entourage, which included Ramos, were expected to fly back home this weekend after their flight to KSA last January 2 for a 10-day trip required in the preparations for this year’s hajj.
While in KSA, Pangarungan signed a 2019 “mother contract” with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah officials, and negotiated other host authorities on concerns relative to his campaign for “improved” Filipino pilgrims’ plight this year and beyond, Datu Ramos said.