STILL unidentified burglars victimized some Filipino pilgrims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, who lost over half-a-million pesos in cash and other valuables.
There are over 6,000 Filipinos in the kingdom who performed the five-day Hajj from August 19 to 23, a small fraction of the more than 2 million pilgrims from many parts of the world.
Dr. Dimapuno “Jun” Datu Ramos Jr., media head of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), revealed the burglary on Friday on his Facebook page.
The burglary happened during the five-day Islamic religious undertaking (August 19 to 23).
No one was hurt in the burglary, which occurred in Mecca while the pilgrims were out of their hotel. Apparently, the burglars sneaked into the rooms from windows they forcibly opened, and then ransacked the rooms.
“While the Hujjajj were [out], four rooms occupied by Filipino pilgrims under Sheiks Abdulcarim Imam and Said Asgar in Hotel Manarat were forcibly entered into by unknown [burglars],” Datu Ramos quoted reports from the NCMF supervisory team in Mecca, the center of the Hajj and the Islamic world.
He said when the Filipinos returned to their rooms and their losses inventoried, it was found out the thieves had carted off a total cash of P124,000 and 19,500 Saudi riyals (around P234,000).
Datu Ramos said the Filipino pilgrims also lost laptops, watches, tablets and smartphones with a combined cash equivalent of P154,000.
Other losses also included various jewelry items worth P62,000.
All in all, Datu Ramos, director of the Bureau of External Relations (NCMF-BER), said the missing cash and valuables amounted to P574,000.
The NCMF-BER’s post received a lot of comments, one of them from Nassif Macasindel, who revealed one of their companions—his nephew—in another pilgrims’ hotel also lost $1,200 in cash (more or less P63,000).
He said the theft happened more than two weeks ago (he did not name the hotel), and that when they returned to their hotel on August 24 in Mecca from Mina, they found out the burglars struck again, ransacking and destroying several pieces of luggage.
Datu Ramos said that when the victims informed Director Abdullah Macarimpas, vice chairman of the NCMF 2018 Hajj Executive Committee, about the incident, he reported the incident to the hotel management and ordered a check of the premises.
They found out that the burglars forcibly entered through a back window in one of the rooms of the hotel, he said.
Informed of the incident, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh sent a representative, Moamar Ayo and his associates Abdulhalim Langco and Faisal Tamano. They assisted the pilgrims and coordinated with the hotel administration, the Saudi Hajj service provider and the local police.
Through the embassy’s initiative, Datu Ramos said “an amicable settlement was arranged between the hotel owner and the victims, and the (losses) are to be paid in recompense.”
Lawyer Omar Pangarungan of the Department of Foreign Affairs reiterated his suggestion that the NCMF should inform and coordinate with the DFA any (official) foreign travels.
“I am glad this incident validated my suggestion to NCMF to take [cognizance of] the need to coordinate their foreign trip activities with the DFA. It is important to always bear in mind that only the DFA, through their accredited diplomats in the host country, can effectively undertake strong representations with the Saudi local authorities,” he said.
Pangarungan, who has helped many overseas Filipino workers through negotiations over their various problems (including court cases), said previous administrations of the defunct Office on Muslim Affairs, which the NCMF replaced, had requested the DFA to designate him as its representative to oversee the Hajj operations, focusing on representation purposes with Saudi Hajj and police authorities.
Meanwhile, Benj Abuat of the NCMF recalled that Saudi Hajj authorities disseminated to all Hajj centers an advisory “that all valuable items, including money or cash, are strongly advised to be deposited for safekeeping in their respective Maktab or hotel management.”
Image credits: NCMF photo