FILE PHOTO: Former Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, who earned the nickname “The Great Man of the Senate,” in this file photo taken as he said goodbye to colleagues in his farewell address on June 1, 2022. PHOTOS OF THE PRIB SENATE / Screen get

MANILA, Philippines – Channel funds to combat malnutrition and not to Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIF), former Senate President Franklin Drilon urged the government.

During a feeding program in Iloilo City, the former Senate President expressed concern about the millions of Filipino children suffering from malnutrition and questioned the allocation of the 2024 national budget to address the problem.

“This issue must be prioritized, especially when we consider the allocation of funds in the 2024 national budget, where more than P10 billion is allocated to Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIF). We need to ask ourselves how much is dedicated to malnutrition,” Drilon said on Tuesday.

On Monday, the bicameral conference committee approved the final version of the P5.768 billion national expenditure program for 2024 – leaving untouched the P9.8 billion in CIF for the Office of the President.

READ: Bicam approves P5.77 trillion budget for 2024; no secret funds for OVP, DepEd

“This is really a problem for the country. Can you imagine that 3.245 million Filipino children are malnourished? For me, this should be prioritized, and not confidential and intelligence funds”, he stressed.

Citing data from the Department of Health, the former senator noted that the Philippines currently faces a “pressing health and socioeconomic problem.”

Furthermore, Drilon highlighted that the poor performance of Filipino students in the 2022 Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) is linked to the problem of malnutrition.

READ: PISA shows PH students '5 to 6 years' behind

“The Pisa survey highlights the correlation between malnutrition and education, showing that stunting has a negative impact on our children’s ability to learn,” he added.

Based on the 2022 PISA results, Filipino students aged 15 were behind about five to six years in math, science and reading compared to students of the same age in most other countries that participated.

“This deeply concerning statistic not only poses immediate threats to the health of our children, but also puts their educational prospects and global future potential at risk,” continued Drilon.

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Data from the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund shows that 27 out of every 1,000 Filipino children do not make it past their fifth birthday due to malnutrition.