Hard questions about LGUs’ nutrition programs

Every year, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) goes around the six provinces of the Bicol region to deliver its annual accomplishment report.

But the June 2, 2023 event, held at the ARDCI Skydeck and spearheaded by no less than the regional director himself, was somewhat different.

RD Norman Laurio, an islander and media practitioner himself from Masbate, delivered the good news that out of the 1.16 million poor households in Bicol identified under Listahanan 2021, Catanduanes accounted for just 16,816 households or 1.44 percent of the total.

He told the local media that Catanduanes was the least poor among the six provinces, while Masbate was the second poorest.

Under the Pantawid, Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and its Conditional Cash Transfers, 14,336 households in the Happy Island  were registered as beneficiaries.

For 2022, 14,568 households in the province have received a total of P353 million in cash grants, RD Laurio disclosed.

In the first quarter of this year, 13,778 poor households have received P58 million out of the total P345 million funded for 2023.

Another 3,000 households have been registered in the island under the program that provides cash grants and subsidies in return for complying with conditionalities related to health, education and family development.

Surely, the DSWD regional chief’s report was good news.

But, in what appears to have been lost on majority of the journalists present, a department official also reported that Catanduanes has been included, together with Camarines Sur, Masbate and Sorsogon, in the four-year Philippine Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Project (PMNP).

Being lumped with 252 other local government units in 12 regions with the highest percentage of childhood stunting is definitely not a cause of celebration for these LGUs were selected based on the finding that they had a stunting rate among children higher than 17.5%, among others.

Several months ago, the Tribune tried to get the latest report on the island’s nutritional status from Provincial Nutrition Office, which told the staffer to come back with an official request for information.

Out of pique at being denied access to public health information, this paper placed the news article on hold.

This time, however, a check of the 2022 Operation Timbang Plus Report on Weight-for-Age among 0-59 months old showed that 10% of the children weighed in Catanduanes were either underweight or severely underweight.

This is worse than Masbate’s 7.3% and Camarines Sur’s 6.7%.

The Land of the Howling Winds also led the region in terms of stunting among children, with 16.4% of those measured or a considerable 3,563 children too short for their age.

Why or how Catanduanes managed to achieve these dubious accomplishments is a matter that deserves further scrutiny.

Indeed, for a small island province to have managed to pare down its poor population to being the lowest among six provinces, how can one explain why malnourishment has continued to be a serious problem for more than three decades now?

Why, indeed, when more than 10,000 identified poor households have been receiving millions in cash grants for several years now, including P353 million just in 2022?

Have the recipients been spending the conditional cash grants on something other than nutritious food, cellphone or Wi-Fi loads perhaps aside from intoxicating liquor?

Has the province, and municipalities for that matter, even succeeded in their separate feeding programs that have been funded year after year since the time of the last Alberto governor?

Even the 3,563 stunted children, “ogpok” in the colorful vernacular, would be very much interested to know.

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