MANILA — Sen. Robin Padilla has filed a bill to amend the charter of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos to allow private firms to arrange travel arrangements to the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Padilla said Senate Bill 2452 will free the NCMF from the "intricate operations" of arranging travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for thousands of Muslim Filipinos every year.
More than 7,200 went on the pilgrimage in 2023, according to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.
"[T]ravel service providers will continuously endeavor to improve the quality of Hajj services, offer a wide range of flexible travel packages within the average market price range, and reinforce innovative and enhanced strategies in Hajj operations," he said.
Under Padilla's proposal, the NCMF will no longer have powers and functions related to the administration of Hajj "except to register and accredit sheikhs, who are private individuals or entities engaged in facilitating, processing, and providing guidance for the annual Hajj for Muslim Filipinos."
Under the implementing rules of the NCMF Act, a sheikh is a person knowledgeable on Hajj rites who provides guidance and other Hajj-related services to pilgrims on the journey to Saudi Arabia and back.
The bill also proposes limiting the powers of the Hajj attache, who is appointed by the President, to coordination with the Ministry of Hajj of Saudi Arabia. If the bill is passed into law, the Hajj attache will not have the power to intervene in the administration of the privilege.
Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman has filed a similar bill at the House, saying "the conduct, processing and facilitation of the Hajj...should be left to the competence of the private sector whose expertise and experiences in Hajj would ensure that our pilgrims will be provided with the best services."
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is performed at least once by Muslims who can physically and economically afford to.
Around 6.4 percent — more than 6.9 million — Filipinos identify as Muslim, according to a 2020 Philippine Statistics Authority census.