Office of the Vice President
06 July 2017
Speech at the 43rd FNRI Seminar Series on Food and Nutrition Researches and Science and Technology Activitie, Crowne Plaza, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, 05 July 2017
Dr. Mario Capanzana, FNRI Director; Dr. Ferdinand Oamar, FNRI Deputy Director; Ms. Rosemarie Dumag, Overall Chair of the 43rd FNRI Seminar Series; Ms. Mildred Udarbe, FNRI Employees Association President; DOST and FNRI officials and employees; delegates of the 43rd FNRI Seminar Series; fellow workers in government, students, members of the academe, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, mga minamahal ko pong kababayan: Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.
First of all, I wish to congratulate the Food and Nutrition Research Institute for successfully organizing this seminar series every year. Your event coincides with the National Nutrition Month, and we hope that as we conclude these activities, we deepen the discussion on how to further push our agenda of protecting the health of our nation.
Science, technology, and innovation will play a big role in this agenda. Fortunately, we are living through the age of technology—of 3D printers, nanotechnology, bioresearch, and other ideas—that have revolutionized the way we see and experience the world.
In the last three days, some of our undergraduates presented their studies in the fields of food technology and nutrition. I am very interested in the groundbreaking work of our students and hope to hear how these ideas are crystallizing into real solutions for the problems that plague our world today. To our students, lalo na po iyong mga pinarangalan natin ngayong hapon: Congratulations for a job well done.
May you always believe in the power of the human mind. May you also remain confident in your ability, to extract from it the brilliance needed to advance the work of ushering in a happier, healthier, more prosperous age for our people. I have full confidence in the ability of our academe to find knowledge, not for knowledge’s sake, but to make your real mark in our world today.
There is a great need for ideas and idealism in our society today. Despite the advances we have seen in science, technology, and nutrition, there are still gaps that need to be filled. Poverty and hunger continue to be silent killers worldwide, as well as within our borders, taking the lives of those who are already vulnerable.
The World Food Programme describes the Philippines as a fast-growing country that clocked in an average of 6.2% GDP growth rate annually since 2010. Despite this achievement, hunger has remained high, especially among the poorest Filipinos, and malnutrition has worsened in recent years.
As of the last quarter of 2016, around 3.1 million Filipino families suffered from hunger, higher than the 2.4 million recorded during the quarter prior to that period. More than 3.7 million out of 11.2 million children aged below 5 years old—or 33 percent—are stunted. These are numbers that are very much inconsistent with the image of our fast-growing economy.
The numbers are shocking in themselves. But let me introduce to you the faces behind them.
Last year, mga Nobyembre po siguro, under our Angat Buhay flagship program to fight poverty, we visited a farflung municipality in Northern Palawan called Agutaya. Hindi ko po alam kung may taga-Palawan dito. Meron po ba? Meron po kaming inabot, a small town in the Northern part of Palawan called Agutaya, which you can only reach after a 10-hour boat ride from Coron. Pumunta po kami doon. The place has no electricity and has limited access to safe and potable water. Noong bumisita kami, halos mangiyak ang mga tao. Noong tinanong po namin kung bakit, they said it was the first time that a national government official reached their shores. Sobrang layo kasi.
While visiting, we met Rev-Rev, a Grade 3 student. Ang sabi sa amin, he has already been delayed in school for two years, pero hindi mo mapapansin because he is no bigger than a Grade 1 student. His classmates were no different. Mayroon po kaming kasamang doktor, who explained to us that these children were stunted — a condition that is irreversible after a child turns 5 years old.
We also met Junjun from Lambunao, Iloilo, which is also an Angat Buhay community, who was two and a half years old already, but only weighed 7.5 kilograms—three kilograms short of the normal weight for children his age. He couldn’t stand or walk on his own because his bones were not strong enough.
Now, how do we stop this from happening to other children in our beloved nation?
Fighting hunger is not a simple problem to solve. It is a silent crisis that needs to be addressed on all fronts. Hunger incapacitates those who are afflicted by it, leaving them impoverished and helpless. It hinders them from achieving their fullest potential. It was, I think, Senator Ninoy Aquino who once said: “The first freedom that has to be won is freedom from hunger.” When you are always concerned where the next meal comes from, everything becomes irrelevant.
The only way to succeed in the war against hunger is for us to work harder, to move faster, and to study longer. We must seek no less than excellence in our research. Millions of Filipino families and children like Rev-Rev or Junjun are waiting for our help.
Rest assured that you are not alone in this advocacy. At the Office of the Vice President, our work is geared towards service for those in the margins of society. We have vowed to put the poor at the front and center of all our endeavors.
When I took office, I called for a united approach to address poverty. In my inaugural speech, I identified hunger and food security as one of the pillars, of what would become the Office of the Vice President’s antipoverty program called Angat Buhay.
In the last year or so, we have partnered with organizations like the Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation, Hapag-Asa, Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines, and Solana Foundation, to launch feeding programs in laylayan areas where there are families with the most undernourished children. The OVP has also pledged its support to the First 1,000 Days program of the Department of Health, and have invited the representatives of these foundations to join us in our visits.
We know that hunger cannot be solved by feeding programs alone. Ito po ang maling pananaw ng maraming mga grupo. We also need to find sustainable solutions that will help parents raise healthier children, educate their families, and give them options and alternative nutritious, but affordable food. This means that their parents must have better livelihood and sources of higher and more regular income, they must be better educated on how to prepare nutritious food, and the whole community must realize that protecting our children from hunger and malnutrition will take the combined efforts of the entire barangay or municipality—in fact, the whole nation. Even our well-heeled businessmen need to understand that if we all fail to solve hunger and stunting among our young, our country’s predicted economic growth will not materialize.
In the third district of Camarines Sur – noong ako po ay congresswoman pa, before I accepted the Vice Presidency – a collaboration between the national government, the community, schools, and the corporate sector became our successful solution to hunger and malnutrition.
Adopting the award-winning model we learned from the government of Brazil—I’m sure many of you here are aware of the Zero Hunger Program of Brazil—we worked with the DSWD, DA, and DAR to provide regular hot meals for children in far-flung schools, where poverty levels were very high.
Pero ito po, hindi ito iyong ordinaryong feeding programs. These are not your usual feeding programs na feed lang nang feed. The DSWD, in fact, agreed—and this was based on the Brazil model—to source 30% of the ingredients used for these hot meals, from the very poor farmers in the area. This way, we did not just solve hunger. We also created sustainable livelihood for these poor farmers, many of whom are the parents also of the malnourished children. At the same time, we improved attendance in schools. This is an example of a holistic solution that we hope to replicate in our adopted municipalities across the country.
Actually po, noong ako ay congressman pa lamang, ako ay author ng Food Security and Nutrition Bill, na maraming mga puntos na gusto sana naming gawin.
Ang pinakauna doon is to professionalize and institutionalize iyong mga Barangay Nutrition Scholars and Barangay Health Workers. Hindi ko po alam kung mayroon ditong mga BNS atsaka BHW – marami pala – pero kayo ang mga overworked and grossly underpaid. Marami po kaming katrabaho na sila ang nangangalaga ng mga malnourished children, pero sila rin ang number one na nangangailangan. Inuuna ang pinagsisilbihan kaysa mga pamilya nila. I passed a bill actually that will institutionalize iyong suweldo ng mga BNS atsaka BHW. Pero sadly po, hindi iyon nakapasa noong 16th congress. But I asked several congressmen in the 17th congress to refile it again. Kasi palagay ko po iyon ang important first step sana – na iyong mga nangangalaga, dapat sila ang unang alagaan.
Pangalawa, iyong feeding programs. Lahat naman ng local government units alam nating may feeding programs. Pero paminsan, hindi targeted, hindi maayos ang metrics. Kaya gusto po natin, maayos ang metrics.
Pangatlo, hindi lang siya mali-limit sa feeding. Gusto natin, ma-elevate ang antas ng poverty. The program that we started in Camarines Sur has been very effective, in the sense na na-elevate niya ang levels of poverty.
Marami pa po kaming gustong gawin na nakita namin sa Zero Hunger Program of Brazil, kasi iyon—if anyone of you is familiar with it— noong nilaunch po siya, napakataas ng malnutrisyon atsaka hunger statistics ng Brazil. But 10 years after it was launched, Brazil was out of the hunger map. Wala na siya. Wala nang nagugutom doon.
Marami po kaming gustong gayahin doon, hindi lang iyong poverty and feeding program, pero iyong lahat po ng mga paaralan doon, lahat ng mga public and private schools, required magkaroon ng sariling nutritionist. Ang mga bata, bawal magdala ng sariling pagkain sa paaralan. Ang gobyerno ang sasagot ng pakain sa mga bata, para sigurado na ang pinapakain sa kanila, iyong mga masusustansiya.
Gusto namin iyong gayahin, na lahat ng paaralan, mayroong school kitchens na doon niluluto tsaka regulated ang pagkain. At supervised nang maayos ang kanilang mga nutritionist.
Iyong pangatlo, lahat ng mahihirap na lugar, mayroong community restaurant, also run by the government, and maraming mga nutritionists. Iyong nutritious food na napakarami, mabibili mo nang piso lang. So, kahit wala kang pera, hindi ka magugutom. Gusto po naming gayahin, hindi lang iyong gaya sa Brazil, pero iyong marami pang best practices na nag-work sa ibang mga bansa, na baka sakali, magwork din dito sa atin. Patuloy po tayong nangangarap.
We are looking for more doable and practical solutions to hunger and malnutrition, and that is why we are very happy to be part of your event today. We do not intend for these initiatives to supersede or compete with existing government programs. Instead, these are meant to supplement or expand government’s advocacies in more communities in need.
In true bayanihan spirit, I believe we can solve the trenchant problem of hunger and poverty if we all work together. As we forge on through these extraordinary times, we must remember to build bridges, not walls. We must remember to share ideas, instead of becoming possessive of them. We must be patient and committed, too, even when we seem to be taking steps backward instead of forward. This war on hunger overshadows any other war we are currently facing. What our country needs now is to collaborate, unite, and work together to improve the lives of those who have so little.
Please add the faces of Rev-Rev, of Junjun, and of the children of Agutaya, and all the malnourished children we work for everyday, to the reasons why we must never lose the fire in our belly in finding the solutions we all seek. May today serve as a platform for creating more responsive and innovative programs and in finding technologies that will serve the needs of our people.
Maraming salamat pong muli, and may you continue the good work that you do in the service of the last, the least, and the lost.
Maraming salamat po. Mabuhay po kayong lahat.