Twenty-three students of the University of the Philippines (UP) Mindanao successfully returned to their respective hometowns starting May 6, following a tightly coordinated inter-agency operation. Ten more students are awaiting their turn. These students from different parts of the country were stranded on campus following the imposition of a nation-wide community quarantine to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were exploring various options to bring the students home. Fortunately, I got a call from an official of the Office of the President‒Presidential Management Staff (PMS). They offered to bring our students to the borders of their respective hometowns, from where the local PMS staff will take over and bring the students home,” said UP Mindanao Office of Student Affairs (OSA) director Ma. Teresa Escano.
“I submitted the list of the hometowns of our students, and the PMS, the Office of the Special Assistant to the President, the Davao City Tourism Office, and the City Government of Davao took action,” she added.
On May 6, three UP Mindanao students, together with a UP Diliman student and a UP Los Baños faculty member also stranded in the city, boarded the Davao‒Manila sweeper flight. The CALABARZON local government units (LGUs) arranged for transport from the airport to their hometowns. “Davao City Councilor Mabel Acosta helped in the arrangements for the air transport,” Escano said.
Among the Mindanao-based students, seven went home to the CARAGA Region on May 6, eight went home to SOCCSKSARGEN on May 7, and five went home to Northern Mindanao on May 8. The PMS brought each group to the designated hand-over points in Monkayo, Davao del Norte, for those bound for CARAGA; Bansalan, Davao Del Sur, for those bound for SOCCSKSARGEN; and the boundary of Bukidnon Province for those bound for Northern Mindanao, where their respective LGUs received them.
All 23 students arrived in their respective hometowns, as ascertained by the UP Mindanao OSA through their group chat and other student monitoring mechanisms, and are either on strict home quarantine or at a quarantine facility, as required by their LGUs.
Of the 10 remaining students, five come from provinces in the Davao Region. The City Government of Davao and the PMS are still making transport-sharing arrangements for these students. The other students come from Zamboanga (2), Palawan (1), Cebu (1), and Iloilo (1). “We have sent a letter to the Office of the President to request for sweeper flights. Rest assured that we are exhausting all possible ways and means to bring them home too,” Escano said.
Throughout the quarantine period, the stranded students were housed in the Elias B. Lopez Hall dormitory within the campus and nearby boarding houses. Last March, OSA held a donation drive to provide food and personal hygiene kits for the stranded students, which saw participation from UP Mindanao constituents, the alumni, and various organizations. Aside from monitoring their physical wellbeing, OSA also provided psychosocial support.
Before traveling, the UP Mindanao administration assisted the students in complying with travel requirements, which include medical certificates, quarantine clearances, letters of acceptance from the receiving LGUs, and the parents’ authorization. The Association of the UP Beta Sigma Fraternity-UP Mindanao Chapter provided transportation for the students during the health clearance process and, together with UP Sigma Beta Sorority, Alpha Phi Omega‒ Lambda Nu Chapter, and UP Omega Alpha Sorority, distributed food packs during the send-off. The PMS provided two vans for each departing group to abide by social distancing rules.
The Inter-Agency Task Force has classified the Mindanao regions as being under a low or moderate risk for COVID-19 through its Resolution No. 35, and economic activity is expected to resume with health guidelines in place.