Senator-elect Win Gatchalian vowed to re-file his measure institutionalizing the feeding program in all public schools nationwide in a bid to combat rising malnutrition even as the country’s economy grew fastest in four decades.
In the latest findings of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), 49.2 percent of kids under age of 5 from the poorest population are too short for their age. Prevalence in stunting goes down as the economic class goes up, with the poor, middle, rich, and richest quintiles having stunting rates of 39.5 percent, 31.5 percent, 22.1 percent, and 14.8 percent, respectively.
“This is a clear indication that benefits of the Philippines’ high economic growth under the current administration have not been accessed by our poorest families,” said Gatchalian, who currently serves as a majority member of the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture.
Gatchalian won his senatorial bid based on a legislative agenda headlined by genuine reforms in education and measures for inclusive growth.
Stunting, which is caused by undernutrition, not only closes the door to career opportunities but also affects children’s mental growth and makes them vulnerable to disease and death.
Gatchalian vowed to immediately re-file in the Senate his measure “Nutri-Skwela Act” to create a Performance Acceleration Program. Such a program would ensure that at least one meal on each school day of the academic year is made available free-of-charge to all children enrolled in day care, kindergarten and grades 1 to 6 in all public educational institutions nationwide. Children whose daily academic program lasts for more than five hours should be eligible for two meals free-of-charge.
“We are optimistic that through our proposed “Nutri-Skwela Act”, we can contribute heavily to the fight against child malnutrition so our children can maximize their potential and later on be productive citizens of our country,” he said.
The rookie senator’s proposed law echoes the suggestion of Save the Children‘s country director Ned Olney, who moved for the implementation of a “national subsidized school lunch program,” among other measures. Olney said “one hot meal a day for children can solve the issues of dropouts, improve learning, keep children healthy.”
Gatchalian’s bill drew inspiration from the feeding program he introduced during his stint as Valenzuela City mayor to help eradicate malnutrition and improve the school performance of undernourished kids. When it began in school year 2012-2013, the K to 6 in-school feeding program benefited over 6,000 students from kinder to grade 6 in 39 public schools in the city.
“How a government takes care of the children reflects its commitment to protect the vulnerable. The government should also view feeding programs as an investment for the country’s posterity,” said Gatchalian.
Stunting in children below 2 years of age hit 26.2 percent last year — its worst in 10 years, higher than the 23.5 percent recorded in 2013. Meanwhile, 17.4 percent were found to be underweight from 17.1 percent.
The FNRI also found that 33.4 percent of children age 5 and below suffer from stunted growth while 21.5 percent were underweight, up from 30.3 percent and 19.9 percent, respectively. (Monica Cantilero)