CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – After quarantine restrictions were lifted in parts of Mindanao, 543 students from four campuses of Mindanao State University (MSU) finally returned to their hometowns in Caraga Region Saturday.

The students are from the MSU campuses in Marawi City, Naawan and Laguindingan in Misamis Oriental Province and from MSU Iligan Institue of Technology in Iligan City.

Students were transported in 22 buses belonging to Bachelor Express that brought them to Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and Dinagat Island.

The students had been staying at their dormitories and boarding houses since the declaration of a national public health emergency on March 9 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Right after, provincial government officials sealed off borders and imposed travel bans which forced students to remain inside school premises.

Students had to comply with the lockdown, says Abigail Cahiwat, 21, an English major at the MSU main campus in Marawi and a resident of Butuan.

“We were told by the school administration not to leave as they feared for our safety and well-being. So we stayed put in our cottages,” Cahiwat said.

On Thursday, May 14, the Inter-agency Task Force for the management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) placed Northern Mindanao and Lanao del Sur under GCQ, essentially easing travel limitations.

Cahiwat said she would finally meet her family two months after the lockdown. She said communication with her family was usually done through text messages as the internet signal is weak in her location.

“There were times that we were able to video-chat with them, but it’s just seldom,” she said.

Cahiwat said she and her boardmates were grateful of the support from government and private groups who provided them with food and other needs.

“We thought we were being forsaken, but I’m so grateful that even though this pandemic happened, people have united to help one another. This was what I experienced during my stay at MSU,” Cahiwat said, as she plans to go back to school when the situation stabilizes.

The transport of the students is part of the “Hatid Estudyante” (Ferry Students) program of the Department of Transportation.

Maria Cristina Cassion, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board-13 (LTFRB-13) regional director, said the expenses for the trip were taken care of by oil companies.

The MSU alumni association also provided food packs for the students.

“They were excited. All of them want to be with their families in time of this national health emergency,” Cassion said.

Cassion said the students were made to undergo a 14-day quarantine and were issued health certificates by the school clearing them to travel.

“Once they arrive in Caraga, they will be put in isolation facility and will be subjected to a rapid test. If they test negative, they will be asked to go into home quarantine for 14 days. If positive, a swab sample will be taken and they will be put in isolation for 14 days,” Cassion said.

Aminoden Guro, LTFRB-10 regional director, said they had issued a clearance for travel so the buses could pass through Northern Mindanao unhampered.

He said that based on guidance from the inter-agency task force units of Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental, the buses carrying the stranded students will not be making a stop in those areas. (

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