hajj pilgrimage

Group urges better travel options for Mecca-bound Muslims from Mindanao

Uriel Quilinguing

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Group urges better travel options for Mecca-bound Muslims from Mindanao

HAJ. Muslim pilgrims perform the Umrah at the Holy Kaaba, as they start arriving to perform the annual haj at the Grand Mosque, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 25, 2023.

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association has urged the Department of Transportation to facilitate direct flights from Mindanao to Saudi Arabia to ease the pilgrims' travel expenses

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Travel agents in the country have banded together to seek better air transportation and logistics for Muslims in Mindanao who are joining the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca in June.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) is pushing for direct flights to Saudi Arabia from Mindanao and localized processing of travel documents to cut down on costs and make sure pilgrims get their money’s worth.

The PTAA made the move after the experience in 2023, when thousands of pilgrims from Mindanao experienced rationed food and substandard accommodations.

Following last year’s controversial handling of Muslim pilgrims, Malacañang ordered a three-month preventive suspension against National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) chair Guiling Mamondiong. It was supposed to take effect in January, but he resigned ahead of the implementation of the order.


In a forum in Cagayan de Oro on Saturday, March 2, the 400-member strong PTAA expressed hope the Department of Transportation (DoTr) would act on their proposal for direct flights from Mindanao to Saudi Arabia to ease pilgrims’ travel expenses.

Evelyn Bondagjy, PTAA vice president for outbound, recalled that in 2023, Muslims from Mindanao who joined the Hajj spent so much money and time before they could take off from the Manila International Airport (MIA) in Pasay City to Jeddah or to any of 27 other airports in Saudi Arabia.

As there are no direct flights from Mindanao to Saudi Arabia, these pilgrims incurred additional costs for domestic travel to and from Metro Manila, and other incidental expenses.

Bondagjy said the managements of flag carrier Philippine Airlines and state-owned Saudia have expressed willingness in relation to the proposed direct flights from any of the hubs in Mindanao to either Jeddah or Riyadh, depending on the preference of Muslim pilgrims in Mindanao.

“It’s a big hurdle but we are going to pursue that and see what will happen next,” she said.

She said that the PTAA has been facilitating pilgrimage trips of Muslims for years, mostly from Mindanao. She said there were return domestic flights directly to Mindanao airports two years ago which reduced the travel expenses of pilgrims.

Bondagjy recalled that in 2023, the PTAA assisted the trips of over 7,000 passengers for Hajj and that they all traveled to Manila from Zambasulta (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi),  Cotabato, Maguindanao, Davao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Note, and Cagayan de Oro; and Palawan in Luzon.

“This year, the Office of Muslim Affairs committed to the Saudi government 6,000 (Muslim devotees) for the Hajj,” she said.  

Soon, she said, travel papers should be processed in NCMF regional offices in Mindanao instead of pilgrims having to go personally to the NCMF Central Office in Quezon City.

The NCMF, through its Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment, facilitates the processing of visa and travel papers, collects Hajj fees, and books flights and accommodations of pilgrims to Mecca. NCMF Commissioner Yusoph Mando, representing the Yakan Tribe in the commission, has been the acting chief since January.

Al-Haj Mandangan Darimbang, a former regional director of the Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board in Northern Mindanao, said on Monday, March 4, was in the 2017 Hajj after retirement. (READ: An unbroken covenant with God: What the Hajj means for Muslims)

Darimbang said that while the NCMF is mandated by law to handle pilgrimages and manage endowment funds, stringent policies to ensure transparency and accountability must be observed.

He also said that direct flights from Mindanao to Saudi Arabia and localized processing of travel papers, including the payment of fees, would be of great help to future pilgrims. In his case, his expenses included a couple of trips to Manila while waiting for his inclusion in the Hajj list.

Hajj dreams

Meanwhile, Ibra Macapanton, the general manager of Marawi Resort Hotel, said that although he is obliged as a Muslim to go into Hajj, he is financially incapable unless round-trip plane fares are sponsored. The minimum expense, he said, would be almost P300 thousand.

Macapanton said the NCMF may stay as the lead agency in sending pilgrims to Mecca, but the processing of their travel papers, including the Hajj visa, should be undertaken by another entity such as the PTAA, alluding to the 2023 controversy.

Rowaida Rhima Macarambon, news anchor of state-ran Radyo Pilipinas, said Muslim women also dream of participating in the Hajj because it is one of the pillars of Islam but are deterred by the huge expense and the difficulty in arranging a flight.

She said that those who have sponsor are lucky as expenses would easily go up to as least P100,000.

“Wishing for the time I can possibly make it, looking forward to it, Ishaa Allah (God willing),” Macarambon said. – Rappler.com

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