| DR. DIMAPUNO ALONTO DATU-RAMOS | Regional Director, NCMF-National Capital Region
THOUGHTS | This is not meant to insult or offend anyone in the NCMF (National Commission on Muslim Filipinos) or any government agency. Maliban sa 21 years in service ko sa Office on Muslim Afffairs (OMA-NCMF) at pagiging Bureau Director o Regional Director ko mula nagsimula ang ahensya in 2010, kasama ako sa Hajj operations for 13 years, mostly as head of the Philippine Medical Team. My opinion about the Hajj operations is based on my personal experience, the messages I have been receiving from multiple sources in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, and the concepts ingrained within the ISO 9001:2015 Standards which the NCMF is obligated to follow.
This is also not an official statement from the NCMF, but a purely personal opinion as an answer to all those people who have been messaging, calling, tagging, and mentioning me on social media.
The OMA and NCMF have always been at the receiving end of complaints related to the Hajj. Kasama talaga ‘yan sa trabaho at expected ng officials and staff dahil sa dami ng unexpected disruptions na maaaring mangyari sa actual operations. Believe it or not, there are plenty of organic staff and officials who are extremely competent when it comes to the Hajj, and they are chosen to be part of either the Supervisory or the Medical Teams. Alam kong marami ang nagreklamo sa performance ng dalawang grupong ito, pero ang totoo, ginawa nila lahat ng kanilamg makakaya within the bounds of their available resources, logistical set-ups, and physical capabilities. There are only 69 Supervisory and 33 Medical Team members (20 from NCMF, 10 from DOH and 3 from Lanao Provincial Health Office) for 7,500 Filipino pilgrims. Ang gamot na hawak nila ay limitado dahil may budget ang supplies. The pilgrims are also housed in multiple hotels, kaya hindi nila sabay-sabay mapupuntahan kung kailangan. In Muzdalifah and Mina, they did what they could within the directives given, and the availability of resources.
I am not discounting the fact that there were plenty of lapses with the food, tent space, communications, and transportation, because there were documented information circulated on socmed (social media) such as photos, videos, and eyewitness reports. But to blame everything on the Supervisory and Medical Teams is unfair and unreasonable. Hindi nila kayang bigyang lunas ang lahat ng problema, pero hindi rin sila nagpabaya sa kanilang tungkulin.
It was fortunate that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)-Consulate led by Consul General Rommel Romato and the Saudi OFWs extended a helping hand to resolve the Muzdalifah crisis, and the NCMF definitely needed their help. We acknowledge their support and are very thankful for their prompt action. May Allah SWT reward you for your good deeds. Ang masakit lang talaga ay hindi nakita sa battlefield ang head ng Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment (BPE) at NCMF sa oras ng Crisis.
Consultants and non-organic individuals should be excluded from any decision-making process
The Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment, through coordination with the regional offices, also did a good job in the pilgrim departure from the Philippines. It is expected that the arrival of the hujjaj will also be similarly handled.
The Hajj operations will forever be a work in progress because changes are implemented by the Saudi government annually. Such a massive and complex global event will always have unforseen events. Sa aking palagay, at base sa mga nakasulat sa socmed, ito ang mga improvements na maaaring pagisipan ng BPE para sa susunod na taon:
1. Increase the number of Supervisory and Medical Team members, give them adequate resources, and clarify that they are in Saudi primarily to work and not to perform the Hajj rituals. Streamline the services by coming up with operational plans that are tested through tabletop exercises before the actual Hajj. Prepare contingency plans and test these as well. Dapat malayo pa ang Hajj, napili na ang team members dahil kailangan pa silang matrain sa mga planong gagamitin sa Hajj operations. Tanggalin ang kamag anak incorporated dahil nakakasira eto sa operations, dapat organic employees lang.
2. Institutionalize the policy about the Hajj entourage members. Create inclusion and exclusion criteria, at dapat naka-release publicly ang criteria na ito. Hindi puede na pamilya ng officials o kaibigan ang nakakasama. Having a policy in place will be the basis for answering the Commission on Audit (COA) audit observations regarding the entourage budget, and it will also delineate kung sino ba ang dapat isama at kung ano ang roles and functions nila as entourage. One consideration is the possibility of having the entourage be part of the Supervisory Team, or allotting all the entourage slots only for indigents properly endorsed by qualified government entities.
3. Decision-making should be decentralized by having the Expanded Management Committee (EMC) suggest operation procedures and the Commission en Banc creating the resolution approving the recommendations. A policy should be in place stating that all major decisions about the Hajj should be done by the Commission en Banc, and these resolutions should be posted in the NCMF official website. Tulad ng sinabi ko noon pa, isama rin ang lahat ng Hajj related contracts sa NCMF official website and BER page at kung maari ay naka FB live eto during bidding and signing.
Consultants and non-organic individuals should be excluded from any decision-making process, and should be excluded as key players during the Hajj Conference and contract signing in Saudi with the service providers and the government agencies. One example: Hajj Manual ng BPE (We were not invited sa Expanded Mancom when it was made.).
ACCOUNTABILITY and TRANPARENCY are necessary dahil pera ng pilgrims ang pinaguusapan.
4. Hajj fund management will benefit from outside assistance kagaya ng mga finance professionals at fund management organizations. Sa ibang bansa, pinupundar ng pilgrims sa trust fund ang pambayad sa Hajj, at may waiting period para makasama. Building a robust Hajj fund will not only pay for the required expenses, maisasama na rin ang pambayad sa contingency plans.
5. Finally, a Crisis Management Team should be created and trained to oversee all unforseen disruptions. Kasama dapat dito ang Crisis Communications Team na pamumunuan ng Bureau of External Relations dahil malaki ang maitutulong ng sapat at tamang komunikasyon sa pagbibigay ng assurance sa mga pilgrims at stakeholders na may ginagawang aksyon ang NCMF kasama ang Hotlines etc. Kasama dapat dito ang proper networking sa mga pribadong grupo (ex. OFWs), DFA Consulate, Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, at lahat ng service providers.
In my opinion, privatization of the Hajj is not the right solution. There is still the need for a central authority to supervise and oversee everything, kasama na ang pakikipagusap sa Saudi government. Rather than privatizing, dapat tutukan ang paglalagay ng sapat na internal controls sa loob ng NCMF para maiwasan ang mga akusasyon ng maling pamamalakad. Proper risk-based thinking and management DAPAT, including anticipation and foresight. Risk management is the foremost concern of the ISO 9001:2015 Standards for Quality Management Systems, at bilang ISO 9001:2015 certified organization, requirement na tutukan ito ng NCMF. At syempre, Good LEADERSHIP style na conclusive, or decisive, ang namumuno.
Again, this is not an official statement from the NCMF, but as a government worker who knows what it is like to be part of the Hajj, I empathize with everyone who suffered excessively while trying to accomplish their religious obligation. Wala man akong direct involvement sa Hajj 2023, nakita at narinig ko ang mga hinanaing ng mga kapwa kong Muslim. Natanggap ko po ang mga mensaheng pinadala ninyo. Humbly, I ask for your additional understanding and patience as we seek to find the root causes to avoid the same crisis in future operations.
Hajj mabrook to all pilgrims! Alhamdulillah!
Words and opinion in this contributed piece are solely the author’s and not necessarily of SDN.