Pangilinan to DepEd: Buy directly from farmers, fishers for P5.9B school-feeding program

AS 24.5 million learners return to public schooling today, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Monday urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to buy directly from farmers, fisher folk, and their organizations the food and milk for its P5.9-billion school-based feeding program.

“Hinihiling natin kay Ka Liling Briones na direktang makipag-ugnayan kay Secretary Willy Dar ng Department of Agriculture para mabigyan natin ng masustansyang pagkain ang ating mga estudyante, at mas malaking kita ang ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda (We request Ka Liling Briones to directly coordinate with Agriculture Secretary William Dar so that we can provide nutritious food to our students and better income for our farmers and fisher folk),” said Pangilinan.

“Para mapadali ito, hinihiling din natin sa DepEd na magkaroon na ng karagdagang operational guidelines para sa direktang pagbili ng masustansyang pagkain at gatas sa mga beneficiaries ng kanilang school-based feeding program (To fast-track this, may we request DepEd to draft the additional operational guidelines on the direct purchase of agricultural products from farmers and fisherfolk in providing nutritious food and milk to the beneficiaries of its school-based feeding program)?” he added.

The direct purchase of agricultural products from farmers and fisherfolk has been made possible by last year’s passage of Pangilinan’s pet Sagip Saka Law.

“Lalo na ngayong pandemya, na milyon-milyon ang nawalan ng trabaho at nakakaranas ng gutom, di lang mas ma-e-engganyo ang mga bata na mag-enroll dahil sa feeding program, alalay na rin ito sa kanilang mga magulang at pamilya (Especially this pandemic, when millions have lost their jobs and have experienced hunger, the feeding program will not only encourage more children to enroll but this is also much-needed assistance to their parents and families),” Pangilinan said.

The senator also wants to increase the budget for the DepEd’s feeding program during the pandemic for the millions who did not enroll this school year.

“There should be measures in place for the millions of learners who did not enroll for the coming school year but are possible beneficiaries of the feeding program. We note from the national enrollment data submitted by DepEd that more than 3 million learners did not enroll for SY 2020-2021,” Pangilinan said.

“Di lang mawawalan ng pagkakataong matuto Itong 3 milyong mag-aaral, malamang ay pinaka-apektado rin ang kanilang pamilya sa pandemya at nawalan ng trabaho, naghihirap at nakakaranas ng gutom (These 3 million learners will not only lose learning opportunities, their families are also likely to be among the most affected by the pandemic and are thus suffering from job losses, poverty, and hunger),” he said.

At the recent budget hearing, DepEd presented its proposed P606.5 billion budget for 2021. Of that amount, P5.975 billion is allocated to benefit 1.81 million schoolchildren from its school-based feeding program, down from this year’s P6.475 billion benefiting 1.82 million schoolchildren.

The feeding program, which seeks to address hunger, encourage learners to enroll, and enhance their health and nutrition, provides beneficiaries with nutritious food products, through rationing, for at least 60 feeding days, and fresh or sterilized milk for 50 feeding days.

The program’s primary beneficiaries for the coming school year are all incoming kindergarten learners and Grade 1 to Grade 6 learners who were “wasted and severely wasted” (based on the SY 2019-2020 feeding program report, except those who have moved to Grade 7).

In case of excess funds, secondary beneficiaries will include stunted learners (identified in SY 2019-2020 SBFP implementation), pupils-at-risk-of dropping out (PARDOs), indigenous people learners, and those coming from indigent families.

According to the World Health Organization, wasting or thinness indicates in most cases a recent and severe process of weight loss, which is often associated with acute starvation and/or severe disease.

Citing news reports from the Department of Agriculture, Pangilinan said that as of September this year, over 400 local governments have directly purchased agricultural and fishery products worth over P6 billion.

“The P5.975 billion budget for the DepEd’s feeding program would translate to billions in additional income for our farmers and fisher folk. Mapapakain na natin ang mga bata, mas gaganda pa ang kita ng ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda,” Pangilinan said.