“Kung ang bata ay kulang sa timbang, tayo ang may pagkukulang”
It has been said that politicians love to kiss babies when they run for office. But kiss them goodbye the moment they’re elected.
If babies only know how to throw tantrums through tweets, or if they could bawl out in social media, their shout-outs would be hard to ignore.
Unfortunately, they don’t have the muscle of the unions and the money of business to lobby their cause.
So it behooves us, we who are in power, to articulate the plight of those without voices, and argue the case of those who are powerless.
We do that, my dear colleagues, not just for all their sakes, but for ours, too.
For isn’t it true, Mr. President, that it is in how we treat our young that we are measured? And that how we care for those in the dawn of life that we are weighed?
Through the ages, children’s welfare has been the best measure of how great a society is. The good things we shower our children measure how good we govern.
Sadly, the state of our children tells us the work to be done before we can begin telling ourselves that we have done half a good job.
And nowhere is this more evident than in the malnutrition that haunts our young.
For Filipino children under the age of five:
1 in 4 is underweight. In absolute numbers: 2.68 million, or equivalent to the population of Batangas.
3 in 10 are stunted. And you want to know how many they are? 4.081 million, or the population of the cities of Manila, Marikina, Caloocan and Navotas combined.
1 in 12 is wasted. Which translates to 1.064 million kids who are underweight for their height. If they were a province, they can qualify for 4 congressional district seats. And if they were a party list, they will have to fill a venue 65 times the size of Araneta Coliseum should they hold in one place the convention to choose their nominees.
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.
Close to 35,000 Filipino children die per year due to undernutrition.
On a daily basis, that’s 95 victims felled by the lack of food.
That’s an annual casualty rate higher than whatever the final death toll of the Marawi crisis will be. This man-made calamity causes more deaths yearly than the most powerful typhoon in history – Yolanda.
Gutom, my friends, is the real grim reaper, with far more kills that it reduces Tokhang to a bumbling understudy.
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.
It has been calculated that 15 percent of school repeaters are those who have poor access to food. Being underweight on the scales leads to underperformance in school.
These poor learners would later form the pool of poorly trained workers. The link is clear: Childhood stunting stunts income opportunities later in life. There is a correlation between thin bodies and lean paychecks.
Studies upon studies have concluded that child and maternal health and nutrition “are the best predictors for human capital.”
Thus, critical care is crucial in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. What the child would later become in life is shaped by the first 1000 days of the child’s life.
And that care begins in the mother’s womb. If the mother lacks nutrients, so will her baby. The race to a good life has its starting block in the 270 days before birth.
The next phase is the birth to six months. And the last is from six months to two years.
There are needs that must be given in each of the phases. For example, prenatal care and proper nutrition for the mother during her pregnancy. Vaccination and a breast milk regimen, to cite a few, for the baby from birth to six months. And the right food from six months to two years to guarantee brain development. The last one is important.
If these are given, a child has a ten times better chance in beating life-threatening diseases, the child would have 50 percent more earning power as an adult, and is more likely to complete 5 more years of schooling.
In other words, the child would be able to blow the candles on his or her cake for his or her second birthday, and during many more birthdays to come.
If denied, these would cause damage on the child’s health that is long-term and irreversible. Or worse, the only candles that will be lit for the child are the ones for his or her funeral.
The delivery of these is what this bill mandates. We have to charter these deliverables so they will form a “First 1,000 Days of Life” instruction manual that all administrations from hereon must follow.
In short, this law for a healthy childhood is, to a large extent, the magna carta for a better life.
Sure, this bill will entail costs. Even daycare feeding is covered by the there-is-no-free-lunch doctrine. But the benefit, I assure you, is far greater than the cost.
Yes, there are many things that we should scrimp on, but our children’s health and schooling are the last things that we should economize. If we’re lax in tallying the bombs dropped, then let us not be paralyzed into inaction by bean-counting the meals we should serve hungry kids.
For next year, Mr. President, whether this bill gets enacted or not, let us summon all our will and all our wisdom in finding funds for the children’s nutrition program.
I know that we’re ramping up funding for education. But let us not forget that the work to meet the children’s hunger for knowledge, to be effective, must go with programs to end their hunger for food.
1,000 days is the term of this Congress. During this period, we can refuse, or fail, or delay the passage of many of the bills before us, and the damage it would cause is survivable.
But if we fail to pass this bill on the First 1,000 Days, the harm to our children will be great. If we fail, it will be our turn to be weighed by them.
At sasabihin ng mga batang hindi sapat ang timbang: “Tinimbang po namin kayo, at ang laki ng inyong pagkukulang.”
Thus, I urge that we pass this bill without delay. Para sa kabataan, at para sa kinabukasan.
Maraming salamat po.