Press Release
November 26, 2016

Recto optimistic on hiked funding to combat malnutrition

Senators spearheading the bicameral push to increase the per meal budget of free school lunches are optimistic that the Senate version of the 2017 national budget would carry their proposal. Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto based his optimism on the admission by heads of the two agencies providing meals to malnourished kids that the present P13 per meal allocation is inadequate to bring desired improvements among the young underweight.

Recto has proposed an increase of the per meal budget to P25, arguing that the state prisons' "P17 preso value meals" are costlier than the P13 meals served in public schools and daycares.

He said his proposal will cost an additional P2.5 billion, "an amount that is small compared to the estimated P328 billion annual economic losses caused by childhood malnutrition."

P1 billion of the P2.5 billion will go to the Department of Social Welfare and Development so it can hike its 2017 budget for supplemental feeding program to P4.42 billion, to enable it to serve one 25-peso meal to 1.74 million 2 to 4 year olds enrolled in daycares for 120 days.

The balance of P1.53 billion will go to the Department of Education, to increase its feeding program budget to P5.17 billion, so it can provide one daily meal for 120 days to 1.9 million "severely wasted and underweight" children ages five (Kindergarten) to 11 (Grade 6).

In their recent appearance before the Senate to defend their 2017 proposed budgets, officials of both DepEd and DSWD admitted that current funding levels for feeding programs are not enough to reverse the ravages of malnutrition.

Recto agreed, reiterating his earlier observation that "anyone who can whip up a nutritious meal on P13 should win the Magsaysay Award in kitchenomics."

"Walang karinderya ngayon na maghahain ng isang ulam at isang kanin sa halagang trese pesos. Wala ring kusinero na magsasabi na maari syang magpakain ng libu-libong bata sa budget na trese pesos bawat isa," Recto said.

"If we are bothered by the small food budget given to convicts, then we should be outraged over the pitifully smaller allocation for meals of children in daycare centers and schools," Recto said, citing the P50 individual daily food budget of the country's 135,000 inmates.

When Recto broached the idea of a higher feeding project during last week's plenary debates on the national budget, he made sure to elicit the assurance from DepEd and DSWD officials that they will spend the money in full and on time.

The minority leader said funding should be contingent on the two agencies' prompt use of feeding funds "because of the bad way it was utilized last year, which bordered on criminal neglect."

Citing official audit and fund utilization reports, Recto said DepEd delayed the release of P1.4 billion, out of last year's P2.4 billion in school feeding funds, transferring it to the regions only in Nov. 13, or when 2015 was about to end, thus defeating the program's aim of a 120-day feeding schedule.

In her interpellation of the DSWD and DepEd budgets, Sen. Grace Poe likewise appealed for a higher allocation for nutrition programs for malnourished children as well as their prompt implementation.

Recto said even if his proposal for a P25 per meal budget will not be fully met, "I would still be happy because anything higher is better than the status quo and represents progress."

"Tanggap naman natin na maraming programang dapat punuan," he said.

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