Millions of schoolchildren have been deprived of food owing to the failure of two departments to release P2.6 billion in programmed funds, Senator Ralph Recto said on Sunday.
Recto demanded assurance from the departments of Education and of the Social Welfare and Development that the incompetence shown by them last year would not happen again.
The senator promised to push for the restoration of the P800 million cut in the 2017 budget for feeding programs for malnourished children and the tripling of the budget per meal to P30.
The 13-peso meal served to malnourished children in government-run day care centers is lower than what he dubbed “the 17-peso preso value meals” prepared in the country’s prisons, Recto said.
“Food for the country’s 135,000 inmates is budgeted at P50 a day each, or P16.70 per meal, higher than the P13 meal budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development [DSWD] in its “Supplemental Feeding Program,” Recto said
`For this year, he said DSWD has a budget of P4.27 billion to serve one meal for 120 days to 2.150-million children in daycare centers and in what it describes as “supervised neighborhood plays.
The Department of Education also runs its own feeding program, for which it was given P4.1 billion this year to provide one meal a day for 120 days to 1.9 million “severely wasted and underweight” children ages five to 11, or those enrolled from kindergarten to Grade 6.
The DSWD’s 13-peso meal consists of a viand worth P10, plus P3 worth of rice. DepEd’s meal, on the other hand, is priced higher at P16 for food plus P2 for operational expenses.
“But anyone who can whip up a nutritious meal for P13 should not only win the Magsaysay Award in kitchenomics but be crowned as the Iron Chef of the universe,” Recto said.
Compounding this, Recto said, is that the DSWD’s proposed budget for its feeding program for 2017 has been slashed to P3.42 billion, an P844 million cut which would slash the number of beneficiaries by 404,000.
Recto said he will not only oppose the cut but will propose that the budget of the DSWD and DepEd for supplemental feeding be increased, in order to raise the cost per meal to P30.
The senator said such an increase would require an additional P3.56 billion for DSWD and P2.76 billion for DepEd, or P6.2 billion for both, raising the total budget for the twin programs to P13.89 billion from the proposed P8.37 billion.
But any increase in funding is contingent on the two agencies’ assurance to improve the implementation of the parallel programs, Recto stressed, “because the way they were carried out last year bordered on criminal neglect.”
Citing official audit and fund utilization reports, Recto said DepEd delayed the release of P1.4 billion—out of last year’s 2.4 billion school feeding budget—transferring it to the regions only in November 13, or when 2015 was about to end, thus defeating the program’s aim of a 120-day feeding schedule.
The Commission on Audit (CoA) said P210 million of DepEd health and nutrition funds were also underutilized.
The CoA also reprimanded DWSD for the “delayed or non-implementation of the SFP in seven regions, due to lapses in program implementation deprived children beneficiaries of the opportunity to improve their nutritional status and health condition.”
The total funds involved was P1.23 billion, Recto said, citing COA’s finding in its audit report on DSWD for fiscal year 2015.
“Lesson learned here is that when bureaucrats dilly-dally, it is the children who suffer. Budget underspending worsens child malnutrition,” Recto said.