National Child Feeding Program: One Recipe Against Rising GNP – Gutom na Pilipino
Explanation of Vote Speech on Senate Bill 1279: Masustansyang Pagkain Para sa Batang Pilipino
by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto*
The good news is that our GDP is increasing. The bad news is that our GNP – or Gutom na Pilipino – is rising as well.
The report that our economy grew by 6.7 percent last year was dampened by the survey result that the number of families who had experienced involuntary hunger in the last quarter of 2017 soared by almost a million, to 3.6 million families, from 2.7 million the quarter before that.
It means that 1 in 6 families skipped meals not because they’re on a keto diet, but because their kalderos were empty.
For growth to be real to the people, it must be translated into affordable calories.
For them, growth in the economic pie should mean bigger slices of food on the table. The thinking of the man on the street is that those numbers have no meaning if they’re not made edible.
This is what this bill intends to do. It is not, however, a single recipe that will end hunger, but part of a larger menu, which includes boosting farm spending.
This bill institutionalizes a feeding program that will target the most vulnerable.
And who are they? The ones who are the first to bear the brunt of any catastrophe— our children.
Close to 35,000 Filipino children die per year of hunger and malnutrition. That’s 95 victims a day.
Malnutrition has an annual casualty rate higher than the body count in Marawi.
It claims more lives in a year than the most powerful typhoon in history – Yolanda.
And, yes, more kids die yearly from Tom-guts than from Tokhang.
The reason for this death toll can be found in this portrait of the malnourished Filipino child under the age of five:
One in four is underweight. Three in 10 are stunted. One in 12 is wasted.
In all, there are 7.8 million undernourished kids five years old and below. If we raise the age covered to 10, the number shoots up to 18 million.
18 million is the population of six regions put together: Cordillera, Cagayan Valley, Mimaropa, Zamboanga Peninsula, ARMM, and Caraga. It is a number bigger than the population of Metro Manila.
This ranks us 9th in the world in stunted growth among children.
For most of the children, the bad effects of undernutrition are long-lasting, if not life-long. But to many, the effects are immediately fatal.
What gutom cannot kill, it disables, reducing its victims’ capacity to learn, to work, and to be healthy.
We don’t have to cite studies for us to conclude that malnutrition leads to low education. Once the stomach is empty, the head follows. For the student to absorb learning, his body must first absorb nutrients.
I am happy to note that this bill provides for a more “nutritious” nutrition program.
- It institutionalizes a national feeding program for undernourished and hungry children.
- The program covers 3 to 5-year old kids in daycares and neighbourhood groups supervised by the DSWD, and Kinder to Grade 6 children in DepED schools. At present, there are about 12 million of them.
- One healthy meal a day will be served to beneficiaries for a minimum 120 days a year. Each meal must meet one-third of daily dietary requirements.
- The program calls for liberalized procurement rules in order to avoid delays in food sourcing so that underspending will not lead to undernutrition.
- The program shall be accompanied by micronutrient supplementation.
- It shall also be implemented together with a program to improve WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities so that diseases that worsen malnutrition like worm infestation can be stopped. Our intention is to feed the child, never his intestinal guests.
- The program encourages a “buy local” policy and taps community participation. True, because it takes a village to feed a child.
I am glad to note that my amendments, spelled out in three pages, were incorporated in this bill.
This bill proves the adage that when it comes to legislation, too many cooks do not spoil the broth.
There are many cooks who contributed in making this bill more nutritious, more delicious, more fulfilling: Senators Grace, Bam, Frank, Risa, Cynthia, Sonny, Joel, Win, Koko— all of us, in fact—which means that when it comes to partaking food in the lounge or in cooking up good measures on the floor, the partisan divide evaporates.
*Author of SB 831, Children’s Health and Nutrition Program Act
*Co-author of SB 1279, Masustansyang Pagkain Para sa Batang Pilipino Act