One of the truly outstanding appointees of this administration is a young man with the unusual name of Rexor.
He gave up his elective post as representative of Valenzuela City to assume the offered role of DSWD secretary, extremely important in a country where poverty reigns and disasters visit every so often.
The initial appointee could not muster approval by the Commission on Appointments because of foreign citizenship and other impediments, and so Malacanang had to scout for a replacement.
Fortunately, in one of those inspired moments, they chose Gatchalian.
Listening to him communicate his thoughts and policies so soon after assuming his post, and watching how he responds to people’s needs in times of disaster, pre-positioning relief goods and mobilizing his personnel when PAG-ASA warns of visiting typhoons, such as the recent Mawar which fortunately spared us, one cannot but admire this Cabinet member.
Watching him recently on a Karen Davila interview, I saw the business-like approach when he said he was thinking of bidding out relief goods procurement, along with its distribution in affected localities, to purveyors such as supermarket chains which have the needed manpower and logistics to do the work effectively, rather than have to procure centrally along with carrying costs such as warehousing, transport and other logistical requirements.
Few in government make as much sense as this young man who clearly disdains scandal-ridden PS-DBM and PITC buck-passing, and would rather decentralize operations efficiently and effectively.
And then this idea of giving food stamps to the poorest of our poor, rather than merely dispensing “ayuda,” to ensure that Filipinos, especially our young, can escape hunger and get the nutrition their bodies and minds need.
Surveys, even the most recent ones, estimate that some 10 percent of Filipino households experience involuntary hunger, having nothing to eat in the first three months of the year.
Although these numbers are declining marginally through time, it is still most worrisome.
Distributing food stamps to needy families isn’t exactly an original idea yet nobody in DSWD thought of adopting it until Rex came along.
Gatchalian’s “food stamp” is really an acronym – Food Provision through Strategic Transfer and Alternative Measures Program, a flagship program which intends to provide food augmentation to families experiencing involuntary hunger due to poverty.
Targeted beneficiaries will be given an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that will be loaded with a specific amount and can be used to purchase a selected list of food items from registered local retailers.
One nice condition in the program is that the EBT cannot buy liquor or alcoholic beverages.
May we suggest they also bar purchase of heavily sugared drinks, particularly soda or soft drinks?
The aim is to ultimately address household gaps in energy and nutritional needs, so that members can perform daily work that directly and indirectly contribute to human utilization in nation building.
Although still in the design phase with pilot implementation targeted for July this year, the Asian Development Bank saw merit in the plan such that they have given it initial funding of US$3 million.
The pilot implementation will initially cover some 3,000 families in NCR, Caraga and the BARMM, targeting the urban and rural poor as well as calamity-stricken areas.
Target beneficiaries are families with incomes of 8,000 pesos or less, to whom the EBT cards loaded with 3,000 pesos worth of food credits.
They will coordinate with the Food and Nutrition Institute (FNRI) in crafting the program, where a designed basket of goods will include 50 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 20 percent fats, with beneficiaries choosing say, rice, fish, veggies, cooking oil, etc.
There is a conditional work component to the plan, so those who sign up will be required to seek employment to continue receiving the benefit.
This is to prevent findings where 4Ps or conditional cash transfer beneficiaries, especially in the countryside, become content with the cash they receive and disdain work.
Likewise some heads of families use up their “pantawid pamilya ayuda” to buy liquor, or even bet in sabong or jueteng.
We wish the DSWD and Gatchalian success in their pilot project so that their food stamp program can roll out to benefit more and more needy families, and dependency on laziness-inducing“ayuda” diminishes in time.
Already, Albay representative Joey Salceda has suggested that DSWD coordinate with the Department of Agriculture so that farmers’ surplus produce, which dampens their ex-farm prices, can be synergized with the food stamp initiative.
Salceda likewise suggested that revenues from the sweetened beverage tax be used to fund the food stamp program. Great!
Congress may also want to take a second look at the 4Ps program, and if Gatchalian’s food stamp program works well, perhaps it would be time to stop giving cash to beneficiaries, and substitute food commodities instead, wholly or partially.
Rex Gatchalian properly stated his mission when he said that most people look at DSWD in terms of welfare, forgetting the more important word, which is development.
Developing young minds through proper nutrition and reducing hunger amongst our teeming poor would eventually result in meaningful and genuine economic development.
Finally, dynamism has come to an oft-looked down agency of government with an image of being a mere “ayuda” distributor, hogging the headlines only in times of calamity.
It’s all about leadership.