Immigration officials arrested 15 Indonesians and four Malaysians nationals, who were carrying Philippine passport en route to the annual Islamic pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
According to reports, all of them were intercepted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila by the immigration officials following a tip off.
All the accused were carrying genuine Philippine passports apparently issued through illegal means and allegedly provided by their Filipino escorts who organized the pilgrimage.
Each had reportedly paid from $6,000 to $10,000.
Meanwhile, the accused were subjected to thorough interrogation which revealed their identities. Initial investigation revealed that the Indonesians were given Philippine passports to enable them to join the hajj pilgrimage, using the quota reserved for Filipino pilgrims by the Saudi government. There were no more available hajj slots for Indonesians, according to officials.
The accused reportedly arrived in the country individually as tourists a few weeks ahead of their scheduled pilgrimage day.
The 15 Indonesians were eventually released as initial investigation revealed that they were primarily victims of crooked agents who provided them the Philippine passports using quotas.
They were released subsequent to President Rodrigo Duterte's dialogue with his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Laos.
All the Philippine passports were issued by Department of Foreign Affairs' office and the officials are still investigating how the Indonesians were able to secure valid Philippine passports. They are investigating the probability of involvement of any immigration department personnel or a possible passport scam. Last August 19, a total of 177 pilgrims were arrested as they were about to board a flight to Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Every year millions of Muslims from across the globe visit the holy city of Mecca for the annual Islamic pilgrimage.