Press Release
December 20, 2006

Malacañang 's P4.7 billion rice distribution program in schools will benefit only rich rice importers, not school children, says Drilon

Senate Finance Committee Chief Franklin Drilon today said giving more funds to build additional classrooms and hire more teachers would provide more permanent solutions to the problems of the education sector instead of the rice distribution for schools program being pushed by Malacañang that would "only benefit filthy rich rice importers and their patrons in government."

Explaining the current deadlock in the bicameral conference committee negotiations on the proposed P1.126 trillion national budget for 2007, Drilon said the Senate panel was not inclined to agree to the demand of their counterparts in the House of Representatives that the P4.7 billion allocation for the Department of Education (DepEd) rice distribution program be restored as such.

Drilon, who is also Liberal Party (LP) president, debunked the claim of Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. that the rice distribution program contained in the Malacañang version of the proposed budget was the same school feeding program being implemented by government in the past several years now.

"Secretary Andaya is not being truthful here," Drilon said in a statement. "What they have is a rice distribution project which is different from a school feeding program designed to address the malnutrition problem of school children. You do not address the nutrition needs of school children by giving them uncooked rice."

"This rice subsidy program Secretary Andaya is talking about is not the school feeding program," Drilon added. He noted that the government's school feeding program in the past involved the distribution of dairy products and food supplements with the approval and supervision of the National Nutrition Board.

"This rice distribution program was started only in 2006 which Malacañang augmented with P73 million as food for school program and later increased its budget by P1.8 billion," Drilon said. "I cannot see how distributing uncooked rice will address the nutritional needs of our school children. This program will only benefit the already filthy rich importers and their patrons in government whose pockets will again be lined up for fat commissions."

"In fact, talks are rife that some people have already made a killing in huge commissions with these importations of rice." Drilon noted.

By realigning the funds to bridge the deficit in classrooms and public school teachers in the Senate version of the proposed budget, Drilon said the education sector will be given the chance to get permanent solution to long-time problems.

"At present, we need 20,000 more classrooms to be able to meet the needs of our education sector. Malacañang is providing funds only for 12,000 classrooms so we decided to realign funds so we can build 8,000 more classrooms. That way, we eradicate the classroom shortage problem," Drilon explained.

"The same is true in the case of public school teachers. We now have a shortage of 16,000 teachers. The President's budget only provided for 10,000. So we had authorized the hiring of 6,000 teachers more, drawing from this budget for Food for School," Drilon explained, noting that a number of senators have questioned the absurdity of distributing uncooked rice to school children as a malnutrition provision program.

Drilon also revealed that the Senate's decision to realign the P4.7 billion budget for the food for schools program for classrooms and teachers had the blessings of Education Secretary Jesli Lapus and the other top officials of DepEd.

During the Senate hearings on the proposed budget, Drilon recalled that National Food Authority (NFA) officials had admitted that the agency had purchased over 88,000 tons of imported rice worth over P1.5 billion "that were distributed under a feeding program to schools even during the summer break."

"We discovered that the uncooked rice was distributed to schools at the time when the school children were not even there," Drilon said. "Can we blame the senators for suspecting something fishy in this program being pushed by Malacañang and their allies in the House."

On Tuesday, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House appropriations committee, raised the possibility that government may again have to operate on a rolled-over budget next year with Congress unable to reconcile their versions of the proposed 2007 budget before it goes on holiday recess later this week.

Drilon said the deadlock stemmed from the P4 billion realignment made by the Senate. But he pointed out that the disagreement was just part of the normal process in the bicameral conference committee meetings and a compromise would likely be reached on the issue.

"These are disagreements that are normal in a bicameral conference committee. We will continue to find ways and means by which we can come up to a compromise or an agreement on this," Drilon said.

"In any case, I don't think that there is any serious prejudice. This is the only issue left and we are almost sure that when we open or before the end of January next year, we should have a [new] budget in place," he added.

Also Tuesday, Andaya claimed the government's rice subsidy program, also known as the food for school program, not only increased the nutritional intake of poor schoolchildren but also raised school attendance and academic aptitude.

Andaya said the school feeding program has been effective in reducing malnutrition and absenteeism among school children, which was validated by studies on their body weight and school performance. He pointed out the feeding program is being implemented for a long time and is just being expanded due to its effectiveness in hunger mitigation.

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