University of Southern Mindanao

Best Practice Focus Area/s

Leadership, Strategy, Operations

Year Implemented

March-June 2020

This is a GBPR Entry


Due to an untimely lockdown in the municipality of Cotabato, some of the university’s students, staff, and other stakeholders who resided outside of the municipality were stranded and unable to return home. As such, Oplan exodus: “Balik Tahanan, Balik Pamilya Program” was organized as a repatriation program for those stranded. Through the university’s collaboration with various stakeholders, all those stranded received constant support and were eventually able to return to their homes.

Background and Problem

In 2020, the Philippines implemented many lockdowns and various health protocols to combat the spread of COVID-19. This presented many challenges, especially around transportation and the movement of people in general. This situation did not exempt the municipality of Cotabato, where the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) is located. Notably, many of its students, staff and even some of the families of staff resided outside of Cotabato. And due to the lockdown implemented by Governor Nancy Catamco, who signed EO No. 21 on 17 March, there was no way for them to return to their homes, and thus they had no other recourse but to be stranded in Cotabato.

And aside from the stranded students in the area, there were also OJT students assigned in El Nido when the national lockdown happened, and they too needed assistance in getting home. The challenge was the schedule of flights. Flights from Palawan to Manila were scarce and uncertain. And even if there were, there weren’t any guaranteed flights from Manila to Davao, and the students were anxious about staying in Manila for an uncertain time.

Two stranded students of USM main and USM KCC were able to go home to their families in Kitaotao and Cabanglasan, Bukidnon last 1 June 2020

Solution and Impact

The University’s Office of Student Affairs (OSA) facilitated the repatriation program. Initially, the office conducted an online survey to gather more data about the stranded students, and the data collected was used to get in touch with them. Also, through the university’s radio station, the office made announcements to enlist the assistance of Deans and faculty who had a line of connection to the stranded students. Moreover, the office also coordinated with the Provincial Government of Cotabato and the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Kabacan about how to repatriate the students.

And while the requirements for repatriation were still being processed, the university did not fail to provide continuous support by providing relief supplies such as rice, canned goods, noodles, vitamin capsules, and toiletries. Notably, they could have three waves of distribution, and they could reach a total of 323 students through the help of donations from faculty, staff, the university student government (USG), alumni, and other stakeholders. And a mobile clinic was also made available for those with health problems.

Moreover, another part of Oplan Exodus was the “Family Away from Home” component. It was to assist students, especially freshmen, who were experiencing homesickness and other anxieties. This component had key personnel not only deliver relief goods, but also use that opportunity to visit, connect, and have a debriefing of the situation they found themselves in.

Milestones/Next Steps

Once all the pieces had been set in motion, the program entailed a month-long coordination with various LGUs, the Provincial Government of Cotabato, the LGU of Kabacan, and the respective LGUs of those to be repatriated. And as part of the university’s due diligence, they had been making and receiving calls even during past working hours and weekends to ensure the safe sending-off of those stranded.

Through the collaboration of all those involved, the university facilitated the repatriation of 94 USM students and five non-USM students (e.g., siblings, spouses, children, or relatives). The rest were fetched by their families, and some from nearby municipalities managed to get home when public transportation became available. As for the three OJT students stranded in El Nido, arrangements with the respective LGUs and North Cotabato’s “Task Force Sagip Stranded Cotabateños, the OJT students were able to return home to their families in August 2020.