Press Release
May 16, 2023

Transcript of Sen. Grace Poe's manifestation on the appointment of DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian

Sen. Grace Poe: Secretary Rex, I'll call you Secretary already. Actually when you were appointed by the President, many were jubilant, of course, including myself.

Kilala ka sa pagiging Mayor, pagiging Congressman, actually ang iyong mga katangian, mabait ka pero istrikto at organisado, may kakayanan. 'Yan din ang sinabi ni Senator Loren, na naging spokesperson ka ni Senator Loren, naging spokesperson din kita. Siguro 'yung sinasabi mong katangian na hinahanap mo sa isang babae na masungit, ewan ko kung nakita mo sa amin ni Senator Loren, pero ang gusto mong meron kang ka-talakayan at siguro nagbibigay ng suhestyon, opinyon na nagpapalawak din ng iyong pagkaunawa at kaisipan.

Actually I'd like to bring up a very important advocacy that we both have. And I know that Valenzuela has really been the pioneer when it comes to national feeding program. Dati pa, hindi pa uso ito, nauna na ang Valenzauela dahil sa iyo.

I'd like to ask Secretary Rex, because of the dismal and depressing aptitude scores of our kids in education. It has pointed to many different factors, particularly not just the quality of education, but because of hunger and malnutrition, the stunted mental and physical growth. So now that you are already at the helm of the DSWD, I'd like to know how are you going to implement the national feeding program? And is this also going to be your priority? Just like it was when you were head of a local government entity?

DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian: Mr. Chairman, Madam Senator, thank you for the kind words again. First of all, Ma'am, you're correct. In Valenzuela, we found out that feeding or hunger should not be treated as a health issue, but rather an education issue. Hungry children will not learn in school and hungry children will not know how to read. Two faults. I also come to realize that stunting happens even before you get to school age or the day care age. Recently, when I walked into the Department, they've signed a program with the World Bank and DOH called Philippine multi-sectoral nutrition program. It's meant to address the first 1,000 days, while DOH takes care of the nutrition-specific program, the DSWD takes care the nutrition sensitive. Meaning study shows it's not just about feeding them, but also about the overall quality of the environment in the first 1,000 days. Mula sa pagbubuntis hanggang sa 1,000 day, binibilang 'yun; to include wash facilities, to include child simulation, 'yung lack of day care centers. That's why we are now part of that program, kasi the government looks at it now as first 1,000-day problem, rather than wait for them to day care centers bago natin hahabulin 'yung kanilang nagiging problema. Stunting when it happens way ahead, nagiging problema na siya, kasi to arrest it is virtually impossible. One-third of our population still is stunted and one-third of our population, we've been struggling with stunting for the past three decades using the same formula again and again, pero yielding the same results. So the new paradigm that they are introducing now is to look at it at first 1,000-day issue. Obviously, it's not just the DSWD, it's a partnership with the DOH kaya multi-sectoral and it's getting the LGUs involved. It's a community-driven program that says, "Ano bang kulang sa iyong maliit lugar?" So these are the poorest LGUs nationwide with the highest stunting rates. They've been pre-selected, and now they're about to identify, sa amin kasi nutrition sense as a sensitive, so meaning wala ka bang washed facilities, wala ka bang day care centers; things that will aid in nutrition. So that's for the first 1,000 days. We also know DSWD runs the in-school feeding program for the day care centers. And one of the things we're doing now, ang dami kasing modality I found out. It's not as simple as nong mayor, 'yung central kitchen, happy na ako. But I've come to realize that the central kitchen model will not work in all localities, lalo na sa GIDA (geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas) areas, it's virtually impossible. So we've done a massive survey on our end users using the different modalities. Modalities, central kitchen. Second modality is 'yung raw goods procurement ng department. We procure the goods and then we give it to them and they cook it.

The third one will be direct, 'yung mga day care center ang nagluluto. We have to establish a baseline first. Sa dami ng modality na ginagawa ng departamento, alin ba doon 'yung umuubra? So meaning, we've identified the modalities, ilang porsyento ng LGUs ang gumagamit ng aling modality. Then, Ma'am, we will measure them using a standard way of measuring them. Kasi 'yung pagsusukat, iba-iba rin ang ginagamit nila. Some uses the detecto scale. Some uses 'yung weighing scale sa bathroom, so ang pagsuma total ng report iba-iba rin 'yung lumalabas. So it's junk in 'yung data. It's how do we make sense of data na iba-iba 'yung baseline. So the first thing is to make sure that we track down the different modalities using a standard way of measuring them, at the start, in the middle and in the end. But that's meant to fight wasting and severely wasting. So the two prong approaches, we do the stunting first, and then kung alam natin na may mga wasted and severely wasted sa day care, we do naman the in-school feeding program.

As a point of reference though sadly, the department has been pushing for a 27-peso budget for every child. And I found out that we're just budgeting P21. Madam Senator, to the committee chairman, we would again push for P27 because 'yung P21 is not enough. Parang ang nangyayari lang nilagyan natin ng pondo para masabi nating may feeding program tayo pero obviously, it will not dent this wasting because P21 will not get you anywhere. Although kami sa Valenzuela, P18, but you saw our model it's pure volunteerism, talagang kami ang nagluluto. But nationwide, we need to really put effort in moving that budget to P27 per head or else we will be going around in circles and if I may dare say so, Mr. Chair, Madam Senator, that it's going to be wasteful spending. 'Yung masabi lang na meron tayong feeding program pero hindi naman natin pinopondohan ng tama ay nakakalungkot.

Poe: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm glad that you brought that out because when we deliberate the budget, I'm sure we'll have a lot of allies in the Senate to push for what you're requesting at P27. Now, lastly, this is just a reminder because now the DSWD is task when it comes to the adoption, the administrative adoption process. So maybe we can in the future, see how that's going, if it's being implemented properly. Because, number one, we have to be very careful about giving out all of these administrative adoptions but at the same time, we also have to be as efficient as possible so that would-be parents will be able to have that recognition with their adopted child. Now, another point I'd like to make also is that when Secretary Gatchalian was first appointed, we were wondering why he didn't want to go through the commission on appointments right away and waited. But now I see what he may have done, he really studied the job very well, because right now as we're speaking with him, he's explaining his program. And it seems like he knows it at the back of his hand and he is only been there a few months. So we are very hopeful with you at the helm of the DSWD. And this is definitely a service on your part. And we thank you, and we count ourselves very fortunate to have you as our Secretary. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Secretary Gatchalian: Mr. Chair, Madam Senator, thank you and well noted on the national authority on child care issues, it's a start up and we will see to it that we make sure that it works.

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