Probe midnight appointees

ASIDE from Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s “midnight appointees” should also be investigated for betrayal of public trust, culpable violations of the Constitution and graft and corruption.

One such “midnight appointee” is National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Bai Omera Lucman who has not only put President Aquino into a diplomatic embarrassment but also, most importantly, allegedly took advantage of many poor Filipino Muslims.

No less than President Aquino himself showed his disgust to Lucman whom he said has apparently misrepresented the exact number of Filipino Muslims who want to make a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia this year.

Speaking before congressmen, Aquino narrated how Lucman asked for only 4,000 hajj visas from Saudi government but collected money from 5,000 Filipino hajj pilgrims. The Philippines, with a 5% Muslim population, has been allotted 12,000 pilgrims every year.

What happened to the money of the 1,000 Filipino hajj pilgrims? Your guess is as good as mine. But if we do the math, the amount is huge since each Filipino hajj pilgrim needs to pay around $3,300 for his airfare, accommodation, transportation, food and visa for his annual attendance to this religious event.

Still, because he knows the importance of the hajj pilgrimage to every Muslim, the President said he was “forced” to send a letter to Saudi King Abdullah requesting for additional hajj visas for these 1,000 pilgrims who were stranded in Manila. Out of diplomatic courtesy to President Aquino, Saudi government granted only 500 hajj visas, thereby leaving the remaining 500 others to go back home feeling robbed of their hard-earned money the NCMF had already collected from them. An audit report should be demanded from NCMF.

President Aquino had wanted to replace Lucman with Dr. Hamid Aminoddin Barra, his third appointee since he assumed the presidency in 2010. Unfortunately, Barra could not assume his post due to the “status quo ante” order issued by the Supreme Court.

To date, the Supreme Court has yet to resolve the leadership row at the NCMF. This is one of the reasons President Aquino has cited to justify his call to remove Corona from his office. But while they need not undergo any impeachment trial, these midnight appointees should be investigated and, if found guilty, be removed from office soon if the Aquino administration wants to succeed in its fight against graft and corruption.

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