MANILA - The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said Wednesday that it was helping tertiary school students stranded within and outside the country to return to their hometowns amid coronavirus lockdowns.
CHED has launched an online survey to improve its database of stranded students who they assist with the help of higher education institutions and various government agencies, said chairperson Prospero De Vera.
"What we're doing now is continuously trying to improve the inventory of stranded students so we know where they are, how many they are and linking them with the university so the university is the first line of coordination," De Vera said in a phone interview.
Students stranded in other countries are repatriated in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs and its consulates, De Vera explained.
Upon arrival, the students are "treated like returning overseas Filipino workers," and undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine in resorts and hotels before they can return to their hometowns, he said.
Since March, around 50 students have been repatriated from countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, according to De Vera.
Nearly a 100 students in other countries are expected to come home by April, he said.
STRANDED INSIDE THE COUNTRY
For students stranded within the country, their universities must check with local CHED offices and local governments if they will be permitted to enter their hometown, according to De Vera.
"There is no one policy because it depends on the conditions of where they are located and depends on where they are going," he said.
Some parts of the country have implemented strict border control as a measure against the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
He cited an instance where some students from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños who tried to go home to Pangasinan but were barred by provincial authorities from entering.
In another instance, some students of the Ilocos Sur Polytechnic State College were able to return to their homes from Boracay in Aklan, which had been closed to tourists because of the virus outbreak, after CHED coordinated with its regional offices and the local governments.
If students have good accommodations and are well taken care of in the area where they are stranded, "it might be better to let them stay and wait out the quarantine," said De Vera.
De Vera said higher education institutions have funds, such as the student development fund, to help pay for the upkeep and food of students.
"Only when the universities run out of funding, do they now request for CHED to assist them," he said.
De Vera said they are looking at ways to assure local governments that it is safe to accept stranded students, such as having them undergo testing for the coronavirus disease and issuing a certificate if the results turn out negative.
"These are decisions that the IATF is discussing at the moment," he said, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which crafts policies surrounding containment measures amid the pandemic.
Those who wish to answer the CHED survey on stranded students may access the form here.