Senator Grace Poe has warned that the spike in rice and food prices will worsen child undernutrition—which afflicts 18 million children under 11—unless government spends in “full and without delay” this year’s P8.8 billion budget for school and daycare feeding.
With food inflation hitting a record high of 8.5 percent last August, Poe said school and community kitchens are safety nets for children who are most vulnerable when food becomes more expensive.
“When food becomes scarce at home, then let us augment it with meals in schools and day care centers,” said Poe, the main author of Republic Act 11037 or the national feeding program law.
For 2018, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has been given P3.428 billion to provide 1.746 million “underweight and underheight” children five years old and below one meal a day for 120 days in more than 53,000 daycare centers and community centers nationwide.
The Department of Education, on the other hand, has a P5.3-billion allocation to serve one meal a day for 120 days to 2.5 million wasted and stunted public school students ages 6 to 11. But during a budget hearing Wednesday, Education officials said about 1.823 million “learners” were so far covered by the school-based feeding program.
“Focus should be given on this matter... the 4.3 million children should benefit from this. The money intended for them should go to. And from a funding point of view, oversight is required because of the big amount involved, she said.
“Ang pondo ay malaki, halos P8.8 billion pesos, ilang ulit na mas malaki kesa sa pondong pambili ng palay ng National Food Authority.”
Poe said that if the agencies will underspend, then it leads to more cases of undernutrition. “Hindi lang pagkain ang napapanis at nasasayang, pondo ng gobyerno din.”
“The per student cost is about P2,400 per annum. Thus, if you fail in implementing this program in one school, then it is as if you have denied that student P2,400 worth of food,” she added.
“Itong child feeding programs ay dapat tingnan din na isang mahalagang uri ng TRAIN safety nets,” Poe said, referring to mitigation measures government has implemented to cushion the effects of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law that aggravated the rise in the prices of basic goods.
Poe said that supplemental feeding in schools and daycares is one way of boosting school attendance because it would attract students from food-insecure homes to attend class regularly.
“And by serving them meals, then we guarantee that they will learn something because the mind cannot absorb knowledge if the stomach is empty. We feed the mind with ideas and the body with nourishment. When hunger rises, school attendance dips.”
She said a Senate review of the program’s current status “is vital considering past audit reports on how these programs were bungled by inefficiency.”
A staunch advocate of child welfare and rights, Poe said part of the program review is to assess if the 2019 national budget adequately funds the many mandates of the Poe-authored Republic Act 11037 or the Masustansyang Pagkain Para sa Batang Pilipino Act.
Signed into law by President Duterte last June 20, the law scales up the government nutrition program for the young.