Press Release
December 13, 2016

Senate Bill No. 1297 "An Act Creating a National School Feeding Program

Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat.

Mr. President, 30 years from now, experts predict that the Philippines will encounter a "demographic sweet spot" - a condition wherein there are more working-age persons in the general population. The Philippine Statistics Office (PSO) projects that by 2045, 67.5% of the population will be of working age. This means that 30 years from now, our country will have 95 million workers in our labor force.

This so-called "demographic sweet spot" could be a boon or a bane for our country. On one hand, our huge population could prove to be a bane if we are unable to provide our children with proper support for them to realize their full potential. Then our country will be saddled with millions of idle, unemployed adults 30 years from now. On the other hand, this 95-million strong workforce could be a boon - provided of course, if we can give our children the proper support now for them to become skilled workers and productive citizens later on.

Thus, to reap the economic dividends of this so-called "demographic sweet spot," we need to provide our children the proper "nurturing environment" to help them succeed in the future. We need to invest in our children today to reap the rewards tomorrow.

Improving the nutritional well-being of our children requires government intervention because many Filipino families today still cannot afford to feed their children sufficiently. As we have seen, Mr. President, despite years of economic growth, involuntary hunger and child malnutrition continue to be endemic in the Philippines. The latest SWS survey (conducted during the 4th quarter of 2015) found that 2.6 million families experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the last three months. That's about 12 million Filipinos or 12% of our population Mr. President.

Bilang mga magulang kapag nasasaktan ang ating mga anak, di ba minsan sinasabi natin "malayo naman 'yan sa bituka. Ayos lang' yan".

Pero paano kung bituka mismo ang problema? Paano kung madalas hindi nalalapatan ng tamang pagkain ang mga bituka? Hindi ba't sangay-sangay na pagdurusa na ang haharapin ng sinumang walang laman ang sikmura?

The nutritional status of our children is not getting better. It is, in fact, getting worse. The incidence of underweight children (aged 0-5 years) rose from 19.9% in 2013 to 21.5% in 2015 (a 1.6% increase).

Likewise, child stunting rose from 30.3% to 33.4% (a 3.1% increase) in the same period. The UNICEF, in its April 2013 report, reported that the Philippines is now the 9th country with the largest number of stunted children in the world.

Filipinos are now the second shortest people in Southeast Asia. Hahayaan pa ba nating maging pinaka maliit, pinaka payat at pinaka kulelat ang mga susunod nating henerasyon? Don't we have a moral obligation to ensure the improvement, not the decline, of our race?

It is a medical fact that a person who grew up chronically malnourished often performs poorly in school, is often sick and is less productive at work.

Thus, in 2013 alone, it was estimated that productivity losses and health care costs due to childhood stunting amounted to a whopping ?328 billion. This is about 3% of our GDP.

Investing in the nutritional well-being of our school-children is money well-spent Mr. President. This is because for every 50 pesos spent on school-feeding, we could save ?5,150 in future health, education and lost/low productivity costs brought about by childhood malnutrition.

School feeding programs have found to improve academic performance. In 2011, the DepEd reportedly strengthened its School Health and Nutrition Programs (SHNPs) to make them more responsive to enhancing students' motivation and capacity to learn, reducing absenteeism, and ensuring completion.

Doon po sa bayan ng ating kasamahan na si Senator Win Gatchalian, meron silang school-feeding program na spearheaded by the local government of Valenzuela (under Mayor Rex Gatchalian) and the Ateneo Blue Plate (of Fr. Ben Nebres). And based on anecdotal reports, school attendance rates in Valenzuela went to the roof after they established the feeding program years ago. Moreover, teachers report that their pupils are more lively, mas listo at mas ganado mag-aral. Valenzuela has succeeded in reducing the incidence of child malnutrition.

A young, intelligent girl once said, "Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Those were the words of Anne Frank, the famous writer, whose family had to hide during World War 2, practically starving to death.

Clearly, we need not wait for a war. We need not wait a single moment before improving our world. We need to put in place programs that will improve the nutritional status of our children and eradicate child malnutrition in the country. A national school-feeding program is one of the most important components of our efforts to create a right "nurturing environment" for our children.

Mr. President, the Department of Education (DepEd) has a School-Based Feeding Program (SBFP) running for a couple of years now. For the current year 2016, we allocated ?4.8 billion to feed around 500,000 severely-wasted students. The government spends only 0.52% of its annual national budget on nutrition. On the other hand, the global average is 2.1%. We need to allocate more to be at par with international standards.

Notwithstanding the DepEd School-Based Feeding Program, we still need to enact a law establishing the National School-Feeding Program in order for the program to be institutionalized, properly funded, and not subject to the whims of whoever is in Malacañang.

Mr. President, I would like to point out that under Senate Bill 1279, an initial appropriation of 10 billion pesos (to be sourced from PCSO, PAGCOR and the President's Social Fund) is provided for. But please note that there are around 420,000 public schools all over the country that would be covered by this law. Just imagine how many children we can reach out to with this program. Hence, ten billion pesos is a small price to pay given the massive positive effect that can be achieved.

Christmas will be upon us in a few days. Huwag tayong maging bulag sa mapait na realidad na marami pa rin ang magpa-Paskong gutom. Sana naman ito na ang maging regalo natin sa kanila.

Before I close, as one of the principal authors of Senate Bill No. 1279 entitled "An Act Creating a National School Feeding Program to Combat Hunger and Under-nutrition for all Public Basic Education Students," I humbly ask all of my colleagues here in this august Chamber to approve this measure. I also would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, our hard-working Chairman - Senator Bam (Aquino) - for his prompt and speedy action to our bills, and likewise to my co-authors, namely Senator Zubiri and Honasan.

The former US President John F. Kennedy once said, that "the war on hunger is truly mankind's war of liberation." This is a battle we must all wage against - vigorously, victoriously.

Perhaps rather than just focusing all its energies and attention on the war on drugs, the government can also devote our resources to reduce hunger, poverty, and ignorance.

Baka naman puwede wag lang tayo puro extrajudicial killings ang pag-usapan; at sa halip ay mag "extrajudicial feeding" naman tayo.

Maraming salamat po.

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