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Duterte to COA: Don't seek refund of Marawi rehab money spent on Hajj

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte asked the Commission on Audit (COA) not to demand that the housing council refund P5 million in Marawi City rehabilitation funds that paid for the Hajj of some evacuees in 2018.

Duterte, at an Eid'l Fitr celebration in Davao City on Thursday, June 6, said COA should have considered Muslim culture in assessing whether the funds were properly spent.

"I'm asking COA to reconsider – ano ba naman 'yang (what is) P5 million. Actually, that P5 million is worth billions in terms of your kind generosity to finance the poor people na Muslim para makapag-Hajj (poor Muslims so they can participate in Hajj)," he told a roomful of Muslims and government officials.

COA, in its 2018 audit report on the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, had said that P5 million was transferred by HUDCC to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) to pay for Hajj expenses of Marawi residents.

But COA said the money should be refunded since it is "not among the authorized expenses in the Memorandum of Agreement executed by the Office of the President and the HUDCC."

The P5 million was part of the P500-million fund from the Office of the President for operational expenses of Task Force Bangon Marawi, headed by the HUDCC.

HUDCC chief and task force chairman Eduardo del Rosario had previously said P5 million paid for the Hajj expenses of 27 Marawi displaced persons.

Hajj over houses

In his Thursday speech, Duterte said the P5 million was well-spent because any Muslim would prefer Hajj, a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca, than a house from the government.

"To the individual Muslim believer, kahit ilang mansyon na ibigay ng gobyerno, but a simple token of generosity para makapunta siya, makapag-Hajj, mas importante sa kanya 'yan," said Duterte.

(To the individual Muslim believer, no matter how many mansions you give him or her, a simple token of generosity allowing him or her to go on Hajj is more important.)

"What's more important to you, your house or Hajj? He will readily say Hajj," he added.

Duterte made these remarks while 50,000 Marawi residents remain displaced, two years after the siege that left their city in ruins. Evacuees have called the rehabilitation painfully slow. (READ: Donations to Marawi evacuees: Only P10,000 released in 2018 – COA)

Many yearn to return to their homes and begin reconstruction on their own, but the military has yet to finish clearing critical areas of unexploded ordnance.

The HUDCC, asked to justify the fund transfer, said devoting the funds to Hajj would allow "social healing of the victims" of the Marawi siege.

Duterte told state auditors to deepen their understanding of Muslim culture, saying this would cause "less friction in society."

He then said that if COA's findings lead to jail time for Del Rosario, he and his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte should also go to jail because they both dedicated some Davao City funds for Mecca pilgrimage of some Davaoeños.

"Don't put Del Rosario in jail because I'll have to go to jail too, and Inday. We will revolt in Mindanao. I will start again to gripe against the historical injustices of the Moro," said Duterte.

The NCMF is the government agency that coordinates the pilgrimage of Muslim Filipinos. In 2018, almost 6,000 Filipinos registered for Hajj.

Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is required of all adult Muslims with emotional, financial, and physical capacity. It is among the 5 pillars of Islam. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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