By Rommel F. Lopez

President Rodrigo Duterte joins the 2019 Eid al-Fitr celebration at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Davao City on June 6, 2019. JOEY DALUMPINES/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

DAVAO CITY– President Rodrigo Duterte has warned the Commission on Audit (COA) not to meddle in the issue of housing funds used to sponsor the Hajj pilgrimage of Muslims affected by the Marawi Siege.

Duterte made the remark after reading his prepared speech for the post-Eid al-Fitr dinner here on Thursday.

In its audit report, the COA found that the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) had signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the National Council on Muslim Filipinos, transferring P5 million to the council to fund a 2018 Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The amount was taken from a P500-million fund of the Office of the President (OP), which it gave to HUDCC for Marawi City rehabilitation projects.

COA stressed in the audit report that the fund transfer was “not among the authorized expenses enumerated in the original MOA between OP and HUDCC.”

Duterte urged the COA to understand the religious reasons for the use of the fund intended for the rebuilding of Marawi.

He said the country could “forget about the housing there that are being planned by government,” stressing that the Hajj was more important for a Muslim than free housing.

The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, which are mandatory Islamic beliefs and the foundation of Muslim life. All able-bodied Muslim must carry out at least one Hajj in their lifetime.

The President explained that the sponsorship of the pilgrimage was meant to “enhance the travel” of poor and old Muslims “to fulfill a lifetime dream,” calling it “a simple token of generosity.”

He said COA should take into consideration and understand the subculture of the people so that there would be “less friction in the society.”

Duterte said that as mayor of Davao City, he started funding Hajj pilgrimages in 1988 for the purpose of helping poor Muslims go to Mecca. His daughter and successor as Davao mayor, Sara Duterte, continued the program.

The President admitted that if COA wanted the P5 million reimbursed, he won’t be able to pay for it and would rather go to jail.
However, he warned that if he and HUDCC chief Eduardo del Rosario were sent to jail, then Mindanao would revolt again.

“Kapag mapreso ako, magrevolt ulit kami dito sa Mindanao. Kayo bahala (If I am jailed, we in Mindanao will revolt. It’s up to you).”
It is not clear if the President was joking at that time.

He further warned that he would continue his rants “against the historical injustice committed against the Moro people.”

“Just the same. It’s all subjugation and imperialism of the son of a b* of those Westerners,” he said.

However, Duterte’s own spokesperson and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo told Palace reporters that if the COA audit report was true, then HUDCC could face raps for technical malversation.

“We’ll ask the HUDCC to explain kung totoo yun o hindi. But I think they will already explain kasi COA has raised it,” he said.