Senator Grace Poe is drumming up support for the expansion of the school-based feeding program (SBFP) to cover more beneficiaries and address malnutrition which is still plaguing Filipino schoolchildren.
During the Senate hearing of the Department of Education’s proposed P612.11-billion budget for 2018, Poe said the government could expand the program–which currently covers “wasted” and “severely wasted” students or those suffering from chronic malnutrition – to include undernourished children since the SBFP has positive effects on students’ academic performance.
“Balewala naman ang magagandang mga programa natin o magagandang classrooms natin kung yung mga bata ay hindi naman makapag-isip dahil nagugutom,” said the legislator, co-sponsor of Senate Bill No. 1279 or An Act Creating a National School Feeding Program to Combat Hunger and Undernutrition for all Basic Education Students.
The lawmaker said that while plenary debates are still ongoing on the proposed law to institutionalize the program currently being implemented by the DepEd and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), she will fully support any initiative for budget augmentation of the program.
Education Sec. Leonor Magtolis-Briones told senators that more than 90% of target-beneficiaries have been covered by the SBFP in recent years. Briones said “mas madaling mag-feed ng bata kesa mag-construct ng classroom,” in reference to the supposed underspending of the department and slow pace of school building and classroom construction due to apparent bureaucratic processes.
“Kapag may pagkain ang mga bata sa public schools, mas ma-eengganyo silang pumasok. Nakita natin sa mga paaralan kung saan mayroong pagkain ang mga bata, mas matataas ang mga scores…Kung mas mabilis ang utilization para sa pagpapakain ng mga bata, hindi masasayang iyan kasi diretso sa tiyan,” Poe said, citing various studies on the positive impacts of feeding program.
The DepEd, which allocated P5.3 billion next year for the feeding program, targets to implement the SBFP for 2.5 million students for next year. This year, the agency had allotted some P3.9 billion for 1.8 million students. The SBFP targets wasted and severely wasted Kinder to Grade 6 pupils nationwide for a total of 120 feeding days. The DSWD, for its part, allotted P3.43 billion for the supplemental feeding program, which will cover children ages 3-5 years in poor communities.
According to Poe, massive government investment is needed for nutrition-focused program as one-third of the student population in public schools nationwide are undernourished, while another study indicates that there is high incidence of stunting, which means that a child is too short for his or her age due to lack of nutrition, among Filipino students.