Restore cut in feeding programs' budget, keep eye on implementation – Recto

Senate minority leader Ralph Recto also wants to increase the per meal budget of the government's feeding programs to P30

Published: 2:24 PM September 11, 2016

Updated: 3:02 PM September 11, 2016

MEAL TIME. Preschoolers enjoy their nutritious lunch provided by the DSWD's Supplementary Feeding Program. Photo from DSWD

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate minority will push to restore the cut in the budget for feeding programs for malnourished children for 2017, Senator Ralph Recto said. 

Recto, in a press release Sunday, September 11, said that they will strive to put back the cut amounting to more than P800 million ($16.9 million) to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s Supplemental Feeding Program (SFP).

DSWD’s proposed budget for its feeding program for 2017 has been slashed to P3.42 billion ($72.1 million).

SFP of DSWD provides nutritious meals to malnourished children across all government-run day cares.

In 2016, DSWD has a budget of P4.27 billion ($90 million) to serve one meal for 120 days to more than 2 million children in day care centers and “supervised neighborhood plays.”

Increase per meal budget

The Senate minority leader said that he will also push to increase the budget of DSWD and DepEd to triple the per meal budget to P30 ($0.60).

DSWD’s 13-peso ($0.27) meal, according to Recto, consists of a viand worth P10 ($0.21) and P3 ($0.06) worth of rice. 

The Department of Education spends P16 ($0.34) per meal in its own feeding program for “severely wasted and underweight” children aged 5 to 11 years old. In 2016, it was given P4.1 billion to provide a meal a day for 1.9 million children for 120 days.

According to Recto, anyone who can whip up a nutritious meal for such a small amount “should not only win the Magsaysay Award in kitchenomics but be crowned as the Iron Chef of the universe.”

An increase in the per meal budget will require an additional P3.56 billion ($75 million) for DSWD and P2.76 billion ($58 million) for DepEd. This will raise the total budget for the twin programs to P13.89 billion ($292 million) from the proposed P7.62 billion ($160 million). 

The additional budget, Recto explained, is nothing compared to the benefits.

“’Iyong P6.3 billion na dagdag, maliit ‘yan kung ihahambing sa dami ng beneficiary,” Recto said. “Kung may dagdag pondo para sa sweldo ng mga kawani ng gobyerno, bakit sa bata wala?”

(The 6.3 billion additional budget, it’s small compared to the number of beneficiaries. If government  employees enjoy a salary increase, why can’t we provide the same in the programs for children?)

Ensure competence

With the proposed increase in the budget, Recto demands assurance that the programs will be implemented smoothly in 2017.

He said that the the incompetence “bordering on criminal neglect” of the two implementing agencies was shown in 2015 “when millions of stunted children were deprived of food because program funds were not released on time or at all.”

According to Recto, official audit and fund utilization reports of the Commission on Audit (COA) showed that DepEd delayed the release of P1.4 billion ($29.5 million) out of the school feeding program’s budget. The money was only transferred to the regional offices in November 13, defeating the purpose of the program’s aim of a 120-day feeding schedule.

DepEd’s health and nutrition funds were also underutilized.

COA also reprimanded DSWD for the “delayed or non-implementation of the SFP in 7 regions, due to lapses in program implementation deprived children beneficiaries of the opportunity to improve their nutritional status and health condition.”

“Lesson learned here is that when bureaucrats dilly-dally, it is the children who suffer. Budget underspending worsens child malnutrition,” Recto said. –