By ALI G. MACABALANG
COTABATO CITY – All 121 Filipinos, who were secluded for mandatory quarantine on Sibakel Island off Basilan after coming from Malaysia, have been sent home to their respective communities after 21 days of quarantine without showing symptoms of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), military and health officials announced this week.
“They have stayed in the island for three weeks (for close monitoring) and remained to be asymptomatic,” Dr. Abdulhalik Kasim, assistant minister of the Ministry of Health (MoH) of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said in a statement released Tuesday by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom).
The 121 Filipinos, who left Malaysia aboard a chartered motor-launch, were stranded on a vessel for about a week after it was barred from docking in Jolo, Sulu, and later in Maluso, Basilan on March 10.
This was when WesMinCom Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana designated Sibakel Island off Lantawan town in Basilan as an isolation and quarantine area for the stranded Filipino migrants.
The emergency arrangement was coordinated with health and social welfare workers of local governments, as well as the BARMM.
After 21 days of close supervision, Kasim said, they found “all of the 121 migrants fine and safe to return to their respective hometowns”.
Thirty-four of the migrants went home to their residences in Basilan with the assistance of the provincial government, while WesMinCom facilitated the transfer of the 87 others to Zamboanga City, from where they could start their journey home, according to Sobejana.
“We’re happy to (ferry) them Zamboanga City wharf safely and COVID-free,” Sobejana said.
Ten of the 87 migrants were Zamboangeños and were promptly fetched by their relatives at the city wharf, while the rest stayed at a social welfare compound in the city for eventual supervised-trips back to their homes amid community lockdowns, the WesMinCom statement said.
Of the remaining 77 migrants, 25 were from Zamboanga del Norte, 16 from Zamboanga del Sur, nine from Zamboanga Sibugay, six from Misamis Occidental, one from Lanao del Norte, two from Cagayan de Oro, eight from Tawi-Tawi, four from Davao City, one from General Santos City, one from Leyte, one from Bulacan, one from Quezon City, one from Sultan Kudarat, and another from Bohol, the statement added.
It said the 77 would temporarily be staying at a Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-assisted compound in Zamboanga City while waiting for the lifting of the enhanced community quarantines and lockdowns.
The migrants and BARMM health workers, meanwhile, expressed gratitude to soldiers assigned by WesMinCom during the 21-day quarantine at the Sibakel Island.
“The soldiers were so kind, despite some instances of stubbornness. No matter how hard, they didn’t leave us. Thank you very much. We salute you,” Kasim said at the end of the quarantine.
(This article, 121 Filipinos from Malaysia end quarantine on Sibakel Island, first appeared on Manila bulletin on April 8, 2020.)