(by Dang Samson Garcia)

SENATOR Sherwin Gatchalian is eyeing the implementation of a universal meal program to address Filipino school children’s nutrition problems such as stunting, wasting, and undernutrition.

“My dream is to have a universal meal program, ensuring that everyone receives sustenance regardless of their nutritional status, just like what other countries are doing. While it will require substantial resources, we will not stop looking for them or innovating,” said Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education.

According to the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s data for 2021, around 2.7 million or 20 percent of children aged 5 to 10 are stunted or have a low height for their age, 2.8 million or 21 percent are underweight, and around 1 million or 7 percent are wasted.

The funding for the school-based feeding program this school year will expand the coverage to 220 days or the entire school year.

In previous school years, there were only 120 feeding days.

From a budget of P5 billion, the budget of SBFP went up to P11 billion under the National Expenditure Program 2024, an increase of 105 percent.

The Department of Education targets 1.6 million beneficiaries from Kindergarten to Grade 6 for next school year.

Citing an internal study on the implementation of the SBFP, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Francis Cesar Bringas said the DepEd tends to have the same beneficiaries every year since learners tend to revert to the state of being malnourished if they only receive school meals for 120 days.

The DepEd official added when these learners go back to school from their two-month vacation, they also tend to go back to the state of being malnourished.

“We all know a hungry child will not learn. A lot of these issues happen during the early childhood days, some of which are quite difficult to repair when they enter kindergarten or primary schools. But then again, we need to do this intervention to prevent further regression or further damage in their bodies and in their health,” Gatchalian added.

The DepEd also plans to extend the SBFP’s Milk Feeding Program Component’s implementation from 47 to 55 days.