Military proposes island quarantine for Filipinos stranded in vessels from Sabah

JC Gotinga

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Military proposes island quarantine for Filipinos stranded in vessels from Sabah
More than 100 passengers remain on two vessels after they were turned away by some Mindanao ports for fear of the novel coronavirus


MANILA, Philippines – The military in Western Mindanao plans to build a quarantine facility in an uninhabited island in Basilan province for 131 Filipinos stranded on vessels after ports denied them entry because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command proposed building 100 tents on Sibakil Island for the Filipinos who had traveled from Sabah, Malaysia, but were turned away as they were about to dock in several Philippine ports facing the Sulu Sea, said Westmincom chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana.

The national government now requires Filipinos coming home from countries with local transmissions of the coronavirus to be placed in quarantine for 14 days. Malaysia, like the Philippines, has a local epidemic of the virus.

The two vessels carrying the Filipinos are currently adrift in the waters around Basilan, after being denied entry in Tawi-Tawi, Jolo, and Zamboanga.

On March 17, the vessels docked at the ports of Maluso town and Isabela City in Basilan, where 282 of the original 413 passengers were allowed to disembark.

There are at least 10 children among the 131 remaining passengers, all of whom would have to go through medical screening for symptoms of the virus.

Seeing the need for a place to serve as their quarantine, a team from Westmincom led by Colonel Leonardo Peña, chief of the unified command staff, inspected Sibakil Island in Lantawan, Basilan, and found it suitable to house up to 200 people.

FROM SCRATCH. There are no existing structures on Sibakil Island, and quarantine facilities will have to be built from scratch, says the military. Photo from AFP Westmincom

There is no infrastructure on the island so a quarantine will be built from scratch, and Sobejana said the Department of Health in Region 9 is deliberating on securing resources for the military’s proposal.

“Through the Westmincom-initiated Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19, a comprehensive plan was jointly done for the conversion of Sibakil Island into a Quarantine Controlled Area. Concerned agencies indicated their support for the idea,” Sobejana said.

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“We anticipate that the current number of returning Filipinos will still increase as they evade the threat of COVID-19 in Sabah and parts of Malaysia,” the general added.

Sabah, internationally recognized as part of Malaysia, is claimed by the Philippines as its territory.

As of Friday, the Philippines has had 230 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 18 deaths, and 8 recoveries.

Across the globe, more than 217,500 people have contracted the disease. More than 9,000 people have died of it, as the virus hit 157 countries. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.