DSWD budget for feeding program slashed by P1B

By Paolo Romero

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The government will slash the proposed budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for malnourished children’s feeding program by P1 billion, but senators are questioning the move. MIGUEL DE GUZMAN/File

MANILA, Philippines — The government will slash the proposed budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for malnourished children’s feeding program by P1 billion, but senators are questioning the move.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto has warned officials against putting “this good program on a diet” without justification.

Sen. Grace Poe, a staunch advocate of free nutritious meals for children, also pressed Malacañang to answer why funding for the program was cut.

Recto said under the proposed P3.8-trillion national budget for 2018, funding for the DSWD’s supplementary feeding program, which caters to undernourished three- to five-year-olds, will go down from the current P4.42 billion to P3.42 billion. 

Recto said this decision must be explained by officials.

“Is it a case of budgetary indigestion? Of the DSWD having too much on its plate? Is it due to the failure of local governments to submit financial reports? Whatever the reasons, for the sake of the children, let’s find ways to improve budget absorption,” Recto said.

The senator was referring to DSWD’s “seeming omnipresence in society, where one in four Filipinos, or 28.3 million, is a recipient of DSWD assistance, courtesy of its megabillion budget.” 

One of its anchor projects, the feeding program, seeks to provide one nutritious meal a day for 120 days to 1.746 million three- to five-year-olds in poor communities. 

Such intervention, he stressed, is necessary at a time when malnutrition kills 95 children a day, or 35,000 a year, in the Philippines, and when one in four children under the age of five is underweight, and three in 10 are stunted. 

He said he is optimistic that the Senate and the executive branch can explore ways to improve the implementation of this program “to include, for example, joint ventures with social action arms of corporations, aid agencies and other nonprofits.”

“DSWD is also having difficulties. It runs a big catering operation. Under its feeding program, they have to serve 209 million kiddie meals in a year,” Recto said.

But to its credit, the Duterte administration will increase by nearly P1.4 billion the budget of the Department of Education for its “school feeding program,” or from P3.93 billion this year to P5.3 billion in 2018, Recto said.

“If you combine the two, DepEd’s and DSWD’s, there’s a net increase of about P400 million. The combined outlay being P8.72 billion in 2018 compared to P8.36 billion this year,” he said.

Poe vowed to boost the government’s feeding program, which she said was a form of a safety net for students suffering from malnutrition. Poe committed to bankroll in the budget the feeding program that will cover all “severely wasted,” or those with chronic malnutrition, and “wasted” pupils in an effort to improve their nutritional status at the end of 120 feeding days and increase classroom attendance and performance.

The senator, co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1279 or An Act Creating a National School Feeding Program to Combat Hunger and Undernutrition for all Basic Education Students, said legislative action is needed to ensure the program’s continuity and further expansion despite changes in administrations.

She said enacting the program into a law also ensures proper funding to accomplish the Philippines’ commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

As a result, no child gets left behind in both schooling and nutrition.
Under the measure, the DepEd, in coordination with the National Nutrition Council and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, shall prepare a menu to be served to all public basic education students.

The menu needs to be drawn up according to age range, type of school and local cultural eating preferences, within recommended standards. At least one-third of the daily nutritional requirement shall be provided based on the Philippine Dietary Reference Intake.

The feeding program shall also be complemented by nutritional programs such as Gulayan sa Paaralan, micronutrient supplementation and proper hygiene and sanitation.

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