Press Release
December 18, 2016

Senate hikes by P1 B DSWD budget for free daycare meals

The Senate had added P1 billion to the children's feeding budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, raising the amount to P4.427 billion, to enable the agency to serve one hot meal daily to 1.74 million 2 to 4 year olds for 120 days next year.

Although he was the one who introduced the amendment, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto credited the hike to the "united stand" of senators to boost funding for anti-child malnutrition activities.

"During the floor debates, the push for a higher budget was incessant. Senator Grace Poe was relentless in her questioning. And the chair, Senator Loren Legarda, was receptive to the proposals made," he said.

Recto had questioned the small allocation for nutrition services, child feeding specially, even before the 2017 national budget was submitted to Congress.

To drive home the point on how money to combat child stunting was inadequate, he revealed that the P13 cost of meal served in schools and daycares was lower than the meal budget of prisoners.

"Preso value meals are in fact slightly costlier than school lunches," Recto said, adding that "anyone who can whip up a nutritious meal on P13 should win the Magsaysay Award in kitchenomics."

As a result of Recto's amendment, the per meal budget will be increased to P20.

However, his other amendment to increase the allocation for the "school feeding" program of the Department of Education was not adopted, as the DepEd itself cited "fund absorption" issues that might lead to unutilized additional funds.

Despite this, Recto still claimed victory because "in legislation, it is better to win a half-a-loaf of bread than go home with an empty bread basket."

He defended the P1 billion increase, which he described as "a speck compared to the estimated P328 billion annual economic losses caused by childhood malnutrition."

The government's feeding program for children runs on two parallel tracks: DSWD takes care of "severely wasted and underweight" children ages 2 to 4 who are in daycares or neighborhood play groups, while DepEd is in charge of enrolled children ages 5 to 11 or those in Kindergarten to Grade 6.

In their 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.

When Recto broached the idea of a higher feeding project during the recent 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.

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