The P1 billion additional budget for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will allow the agency to serve one hot meal a day to 1.74 million children aged two to four for 120 days next year, Senate minority leader Ralph Recto said Sunday.
While the P1 billion increase is just a “speck” compared to the estimated P328 billion annual economic losses caused by childhood malnutrition, it is a good start in helping malnourished children, Recto said.
Recto and Sen. Grace Poe were among those who questioned the small allocation for nutrition services and child feeding during the deliberation of the 2017 national budget. The former lamented that the P13 cost of meal served in schools and daycares was lower than the meal budget for prisoners.
“Preso (prisoner) value meals are in fact slightly costlier than school lunches,” Recto said. “Anyone who can whip up a nutritious meal on P13 should win the Magsaysay Award in kitchenomics.”
Recto’s complaint prompted lawmakers to increase the meal budget to P20.
The government’s feeding program for children runs on two parallel tracks: the SWD takes care of “severely wasted and underweight” children aged two to four while the Department of Education (DepEd) is in charge of enrolled children aged 5 to 11 or those in Kindergarten to Grade 6.
The DSWD and DepEd admitted that funding levels for feeding programs are not enough to reverse the ravages of malnutrition.
Recto urged the two agencies to spend the money in full and on time.
The funding, he said, 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 of last year’s P2.4 billion school feeding funds, transferring it to the regions only on Nov. 13, or when 2015 was about to end.