The Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2) urged the Department of Education to reallocate funds to support the ECCD Council’s nutrition and feeding programs for children ages 0-5, during the hearing of the Senate committee on finance on the department’s proposed 2024 budget.
EDCOM 2 Commissioner and Senior Vice Chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee overseeing the education and health budget Senator Pia Cayetano pointed out that there is a need for P5.597 billion for the nutrition and feeding programs to cover the early years, citing the Commission’s findings in its consultations with the ECCD Council, the Department of Health, the National Nutrition Council, the Department of Education, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
“The need now for the early feeding programs is at P5.597 billion to increase an already existing program that captures 209 municipalities and almost 1.4 children under 5 years old, 171,000 children [aged] 0-6, 6-23 months…And all of this we will practically double with P5.5 billion”, Cayetano said.
With the additional investment of P5.597 billion, resources targeting children in the early years would expand from the current coverage of just 235 to 444 municipalities. This will cover 2.388 million children below the age of 5, including 875,430 children from 0 to 24 months, and 81,276 nutritionally-at-risk mothers.
Budget needed for feeding programs in earlier years
“May I ask you to kindly revisit [the budget allocation], since we’re doubling the fund anyway, to focus on Early Childhood Care and Development, given that the DepEd Secretary chairs it anyway”, EDCOM 2 Co-Chairperson Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero said, addressing DepEd Assistant Secretary for Operations Dexter Galban.
While the School-based Feeding Program is implemented by DepEd consistent with RA 11037 (Masustansyang Pagkain para sa Batang Pilipino Act of 2018), the Department also Chairs the ECCD Council, in line with RA 10410 (Early Years Act of 2013). The ECCD Council’s mandate is “to achieve improved infant and child survival rates by ensuring that adequate health and nutrition programs are accessible to young children and their parents, from the prenatal period throughout the early childhood years”.
“Because if you arrest and address the problem early on, as recommended by EDCOM…you will prevent stunting, wasting later on. When I say “early childhood”, you’re talking about pregnant women, lactating mothers, and 0-5, before they even enter [Kindergarten]”, Escudero continued.
“If we can come up with the additional P5 billion for the earlier interventions, then it’s the best step forward. But if we cannot, may I ask you to start thinking if there’s a way that you [DepEd Office of the Secretary] can share the funding with ECCD Council?”, Senator Cayetano said.
A policy note by EDCOM 2’s research arm Philippine Institute of Development Studies notes that “the prevalence in stunting among the poor and rich children begins to diverge at 6 months, still within the first 1,000 days.” After this critical window, studies have shown that the adverse effects are long-lasting and would be hard to compensate later in childhood.
“Research has shown that effective early childhood nutrition interventions lower the age of school start, improve reading comprehension and nonverbal cognitive ability test results, and boost the chance of earning more later in life”, the Policy Note said.
School-based feeding program during summer?
Senator Escudero noted the discrepancy between the school-based feeding program and school days in DepEd’s academic calendar. “Earlier I heard Usec. Michael Poa say that they’re allocating a school-based feeding program for 220 days. But as stated by the Honorable Vice President and Secretary, your academic calendar is only 188 days – that’s an excess of about 15%. If you multiply it by your 11.7B allocation for feeding, you can actually set aside about 15%, or 1.6B”.
“Kaya nga tinawag na school-based, ‘di ba Asec.? Sa school niyo pinapakain, hindi naman sa bahay, ‘di ba? So papaano mo papakainin kung wala na’ang klase?”, Senator Chiz Escudero quizzed Asec. Galban.
Secretary and Vice President Duterte answered, “There is data to show that children regress during the end of school year, because they are not fed well when there are no classes. So the idea is to extend the school-based feeding program for those children who are in learning camps who are severely wasted and malnourished”.
Escudero asked the Department to reallocate the 5.5 billion to meet interventions in the earlier years. “Perhaps [the allocation] can be adjusted…I think based on EDCOM 2, the funding required to address lactating, pregnant, and 0-5, is about 5.6 billion…Perhaps we can allocate funds to try to meet the [5.5 billion] required to address this early stage”, he said.
“Believe me, this will require lesser funds later on and you can address the problem at its onset”, Escudero said.