Senator Grace Poe vowed to push for final approval of funding the government’s feeding program included in next year’s proposed P3.767 trillion spending plan, as she stressed that the program was a form of a safety net for students suffering from malnutrition.
Poe, a staunch advocate of free nutri-meals for students, said a total of P8.73 billion has been earmarked in 2018 to bankroll the feeding program that will cover all “severely wasted,” or those with chronic malnutrition, and “wasted” pupils in an effort to improve their nutritional status at the end of 120 feeding days and increase classroom attendance and performance.
The outlay, which is lower than last year’s P9.4 billion budget allocated for the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), consists of P5.3 billion under the DepEd and P3.43 billion under the DSWD.
“Kailangan nating tiyakin na ang mga bata ay nakakakain nang sapat upang sila ay makalaban sa buhay. Huwag nating pabayaang kumakalam ang kanilang tiyan. Ang feeding program ay nagsisilbi ring ‘safety net’ nila–para mapabuti ang lagay ng kanilang kalusugan at maging mas aktibo sila sa kanilang pag-aaral,” said the legislator, who has been instrumental in increasing the budget for the program in previous years.
The lawmaker, 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, said she will also ask DSWD officials why it had slashed its budget for the feeding program by almost P1 billion–from last year’s P4.43 billion–when the Senate deliberates the proposed spending plan of the agency. DepEd, meanwhile, raised its budget this year, from P4.98 billion last year.
The lady senator said legislative action is needed to ensure the program’s continuity and further expansion despite changes in administrations. Enacting the program into a law also ensures proper funding to accomplish the Philippines’ commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals. As a result, no child gets left behind in both schooling and nutrition.
Under the measure, the DepEd, in coordination with the National Nutrition Council and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, shall prepare a menu to be served to all public basic education students. The menu needs to be drawn up according to age range, type of school, and local cultural eating preferences, within recommended standards. At least one-third of the daily nutritional requirement shall be provided based on the Philippine Dietary Reference Intake.
The feeding program shall also be complemented by nutritional programs such as Gulayan sa Paaralan, micronutrient supplementation and proper hygiene and sanitation.
An initial appropriation of P10 billion to be sourced from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the President’s Social Fund is allotted to implement the program for around 420,000 public schools all over the country.
“Ten billion pesos is a small price given the massive positive effect that can be achieved through this program,” Poe said.
In pushing for the immediate approval of the measure, Poe said poor class attendance is tied to hunger and malnutrition, a condition still prevalent in the Philippines where about one in 10 children aged five and below (7.9%) are wasted, while one in five (19.9%) are underweight, and three in ten (30.7%) have stunted growths or too short for their age due to lack of nutrition.
In a report titled “Stolen Childhoods: End of Childhood Report 2017” published by Save the Children, the Philippines ranked 9th among countries with the highest prevalence of stunting around the world, joining other poor nations such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo, Bangladesh and Tanzania where severe cases of malnutrition and stunting have been recorded. Over two-thirds of the world’s stunted children live in 10 countries, including the Philippines.
Save the Children, the world’s leading independent organization working to improve the lives of children, had estimated that the appalling state of malnutrition costs the Philippines P328 billion and affects workforce productivity and education.