Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian expressed alarm over reports that nearly 20 percent of Filipino children on the average are undernourished.
The results of the 8th National Nutrition Survey or NNS of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute or FNRI show that almost 13 percent of children under 5 years old in National Capital Region or NCR are underweight, below the national average of 19.9 percent.
“Empty stomachs distract school children from learning their lessons well. Schooling develops children’s potentials so they will be able to contribute their best in nation-building, but how can they absorb their lessons if all they can hear are their rumbling stomachs?” said Gatchalian, a majority member in the House Committees on Basic Education and Culture and on Higher and Technical Education.
In Northern Metro Manila more popularly known as the Camanava area, three of the four cities – Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas – belong to the Top 5 NCR cities with undernourished children for 2014. Based on data collated by Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNS), Malabon is No. 2 with 4.83 percent; Navotas No. 4 with 3.19 percent, and Caloocan No. 5 with 3.12 percent malnourished children.
The saving grace for Camanava is Valenzuela City which ranked 5th in the list of NCR cities with the lowest number of malnourished children based on the results of the 2014 Operation Timbang by BNS.
Gatchalian, who represents Valenzuela City’s 1st Congressional District, attributes the city’s landing in the Top 5 local government units or LGUs with less number of malnourished children to the “K to 6 In-School Feeding Program”, which started in 2012 when Gatchalian was on his last term as city mayor.
Over 6,000 students from Kinder to Grade 6 in 39 public schools in Valenzuela City benefited from the program in its first run. For the current academic year, the program provides daily meals to 8,269 daycare center pupils and 7,116 underweight kinder and elementary students in all the city’s public schools.
“The City of Valenzuela is thankful to Ateneo’s Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J. and Prof. Milwida Guevara for opening our eyes to the perennial problem of malnourished children. We are a lot closer now in eradicating this problem in the city. We aim to have zero malnutrition in Valenzuela,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian pointed out that Valenzuela City is probably the most improved LGU among the Top 5 cities with less malnourished children considering the fact that the four other LGUs – Makati, Taguig, Mandaluyong, and Marikina – have richer demographics and higher land valuations compared to Valenzuela.
“It’s very difficult to compete with them in term of resources,” he said.
As part of his advocacy to promote proper nutrition among school children, Gatchalian is moving for the swift passage of House Bill No. 5348, also known as the “Nutri-Skwela Act of 2015” and Senator Grace Poe’s counterpart measure Senate Bill No. 79 or the “Sustansiya sa Batang Pilipino Act of 2013.”
“The measure I filed, as well as Senator Grace Poe’s Senate bill, will institutionalize feeding programs distributing free meals to concerned children in schools nationwide,” said Gatchalian.
He added, “Both bills will help eradicate hunger among children so they can focus on school and become productive citizens.”
Poe herself said that Valenzuela City’s feeding program can be used as a model on how the proposed national feeding program will run in every city and municipality in the country. Poe paid a visit recently to Valenzuela City to see for herself how the feeding program started by Gatchalian really works.
The program, according to Poe, shows how local government units can partner with volunteers and non-government organizations in feeding malnourished students.
Gatchalian’s bill seeks to form a Performance Acceleration Program to ensure that children enrolled in daycare pupils, kindergarten, and Grades 1 to 6 in all public educational institutions nationwide will be able to access at least one free meal on each school day of the academic year.
Children whose daily academic program lasts for more than five hours will be eligible to receive two free meals.
City and municipal nutrition committees will be responsible for the purchase of food and for the logistical and organizational concerns of the program.
If passed, the measure will also expand the National Nutrition Council, which will manage the overall formation, implementation, and evaluation of the program.
Based on the results of a Social Weather Stations or SWS survey in 2014, Metro Manila’s hunger rate average was 16 percent. In addition, families who consider themselves as food-poor, or lack the proper type of food to meet their daily nutrients needs, rose to 41 percent – higher than 2013’s average of 39 percent. (Monica Cantilero/R. Burgos/Timothy Alcantara)