A total of P8.9 billion is included in the government’s spending program this year to implement two anti-hunger initiatives aimed at establishing a free feeding program in all public schools and provide children full support beginning conception up to two years old, Sen. Grace Poe said.

The two initiatives have been Poe’s pet bills since joining the legislature in 2013. To implement the free feeding program, P4.2 billion has been allocated for the Department of Education (DepEd), the implementing agency of the school-based feeding program, while P4.4 billion has been earmarked for the Department of Social Welfare and Development to implement the supplemental feeding program.

As for the First 1,000 Days Program jointly managed by the Department of Health and the National Nutrition Council (NNC), a total of P294 million has been allocated to implement the natal care program for expectant mothers, and health care and feeding program for toddlers.

“We have supported these nutrition programs of the government, and our next step is to institutionalize them through legislative fiat to make these programs permanent,” said Poe.

Poe is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill (SB) No. 1297 or An Act Creating a National School Feeding Program to Combat Hunger and Undernutrition for all Basic Education Students. Under the measure, the DepEd, in coordination with the NNC and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, shall prepare a menu that satisfies at least one-third of the daily nutritional requirement of a child based on the Philippine Dietary Reference Intake. It shall be drawn up according to age range, type of school, and local cultural eating preferences.

“The school feeding program ensures that our children are properly nourished to enable them to grow up healthy, smart and alert. At the same time, by institutionalizing this program, we are giving livelihood opportunities for local producers and suppliers, as the ingredients for the menu will be sourced from them,” Poe explained.

Poe urges the implementing agencies to maximize the budget given to them, and cautions that the Senate shall keep a “tight watch” on how the agencies spend the money.

“I trust that the DepEd and the DSWD will ensure that the budget allocated for the feeding programs will directly benefit the intended beneficiaries. Ating titiyakin na ang inilaan para sa bituka ng mga bata ay hindi sa bulsa ng iba mapupunta,” Poe said.

In previous years, Poe was instrumental in hiking the budget of the feeding program to cover more beneficiaries and effectively tackle malnutrition and hunger among schoolchildren. About 75 percent of student-beneficiaries of the DepEd’s school-based feeding program have their weight normalized. “This emphasizes that the program must now be institutionalized,” Poe pointed out.

The lady senator also filed SB No. 161 or the proposed First 1,000 Days Act to support a child’s life from the point of conception to the child’s second birthday—the most crucial stage of human development.

The measure seeks to develop a mother and child health care program for the First 1,000 Days in every barangay. The program shall include not only nutrition counselling but also milk feeding for pregnant and nursing mothers, treatment of malnourished children with therapeutic food, and the timely provision of safe and appropriate complementary food.

“I hope our government sees the importance of passing this bill. By caring for our mothers, we care for our children, and by caring for children, we are caring for our nation–for who else will become the backbone of this nation but the future generation?” Poe stressed.

Poe wrote President Duterte on Sept. 1 last year to certify the two nutrition measures as urgent and include them as part of the administration’s priority bills to enable lawmakers to rush approval. With the President’s certification, Congress can simultaneously pass them on second and third reading on the same day and do away with the three-day interval in between approvals as required by the Constitution.

“In order to reap the economic dividends of the so-called ‘demographic sweet spot,’ we need to provide our children the proper nurturing environment to help them succeed in the future. We need to invest in our children today to reap due rewards tomorrow,” Poe said.

Poe is pushing for the institutionalization of the nutrition-driven initiatives amid various research indicating that the Philippines still has high incidence of hunger‎.#