Press Release
March 16, 2016


Saying education and health would be her government's priorities, leading presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe said she was open to spending up to P40 billion to provide free meals to students in public schools.

Speaking to members of the Makati Business Club (MBC), Poe said the feeding program for poor elementary students would not only address hunger but also reduce the drop-out rate among public school students.

"Health and education are going to be among my key advocacies to promote inclusiveness," Poe said at the MBC's Presidential Dialogues.

"I believe it is only right to give everybody's children access to the same levels of health and education that middle-class families enjoy. Children, after all, do not choose to be born and cannot choose their parents. I believe they should not be penalized in life because of the conditions they are born into," she said.

When she assumed her Senate seat in 2013, Poe's first proposed legislation was the "Sustansya sa Batang Pilipino Act," which sought to institutionalize a free lunch program in all public elementary schools and day care centers.

While the bill has yet to be passed, Poe was able to secure a P3.2 billion allocation in the 2015 national budget to feed more than two million malnourished and severely wasted schoolchildren.

If she wins the presidency, the senator said she would expand the coverage of the feeding program and ensure that more indigent students benefit from it.

"My economic advisers have asked why I am so insistent on aggressively expanding the school feeding program for young children, which would cost us about P30-40 billion a year," Poe said.

"This is because, as a mother, in charge of the household budget, I am aware that in most schools, tuition is only a small part of the cost of educating a student. We have long been offering our students free tuition up to the high school level. But despite this, a majority voluntarily forego the benefit," she said.

Based on her encounters with parents in poor Filipino households, she said the biggest problem for them is the cost of their children's meals and other expenses related to their children's education.

"If we can offer children free lunches, on top of the tuition subsidy we now give through our public school systems, at least up to a certain grade, it will increase the chances of parents keeping their children in school," Poe said.

Access to education and healthcare, she maintains, is crucial to lifting people out of poverty.

"I know that we do not possess the financial resources of a first-world country, but even this early on, we should lay the groundwork to eventually become a nation that provides quality universal healthcare at the primary level and free education up to the tertiary level for those who are deserving but without means," she said.

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