The sari-sari stores nearby

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For thirteen year old grade 7 student Janina Dalistan and her classmates and chums, Misaki Hanaoka, 12 and Makaila Bacay, 13, lemon soda and a local brand chocolate bar are their favorite school day snacks.

The foods are readily available at a branch of a fast-increasing convenience store outlet in the country just opposite their school, Gen. Gregorio del Pilar Integrated School in Bulakan town.

Maria Suarez, 37, from Sitio Malusak, Barangay Sta. Ana, does not allow her grade 2 daughter Camille to go out of the school to buy her recess food nor preferred the pricey snacks sold inside the school canteen. Daily, she packs for her Jack ‘n Jill Cheese Curls, Oishi, Choco Crunch, Rebisco biscuits and a bottle of mineral water as her “baon”. “These are her requests. These are her favorites. She would not avail of the snacks in the school canteen because they are expensive,” she told NEWS CORE.

Also available anytime during school days at the same convenience store are the variety of creamy and sweet flavors of ice cream cones which thirteen year old grade 8 student Nino Zoilo from Barangay San Nicolas preys on everyday during recess time. He said he also grabbed and bit a piece or two at a similar convenience store beside their house. Cookies and cream and chocolate are his top choices coupled with a separate Oreo biscuits. “They are creamy, sweet and delicious. I love them everyday here in school and at home,” he said.

Melody Agas, 42, from Sitio Malusak, brings mocca cup cakes for snacks and an alternative of luncheon meat, chicken and frozen foods as lunch for her two school children in GGPIS, a 5 year old kindergarten and a 12 year old grade 7 student.

Her children do not eat fish and vegetables, she said. Sometimes, she will bring them cooked shomai bought just outside the school.

GGPIS is just one of the many public schools in Bulacan where sari-sari stores, stalls of shomai and other street foods like fish ball, kikiam, squid ball, deep-fried “chicken ass”etc. including milk tea lined up next to each other for school children to prey on everyday and any time they can.

They landed in these establishments just outside the schools because they were strongly influenced and captivated on what were strongly marketed and advertised on TV, radio, print and even in the digital and social media platforms.

Worse these days, the much bigger and more comfortable sari-sari stores in the form of the convenience stores with a much more variety of unhealthy food choices add to the dazzle of available food snacks just a few steps outside the schools.

In schools in the City of Malolos, another name of a 24-hour convenience store also stands just opposite its main entrance.

In the City of San Jose del Monte, not just a school is walking distance to a branch of a well-known supermarket, but sari-sari stores mushrooms just across the school.

In Guiguinto town, milk tea stalls and shops are an added attraction to the sari-sari stores.

For the rest of the other public and private schools in Bulacan, particularly in relocation sites in Pandi, Bocaue, Marilao and Balagtas, the same and worse scenario exist.     

Unknowingly, these children increase their chances of being obese and even incur ailments at a very young age.

Obesity and 2017 DepEd Order No. 13

Obesity increases among children in the Philippines when they get older based on a landscape analysis conducted by the Department of Health, the National Nutrition Council, the Nutrition Center of the Philippines and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Based on the study, infants and children under 5 years old has an obesity rate of 2.9%; children 5-10 years old 9.1%, adolescents 10-19 years old 9.8% and adult women 35.2%.

The study also shows that if no action is taken, more than 30% of adolescents in the Philippines will be either overweight or obese by 2030.

The Department of Education (DepEd) in its Order No. 13 in 2017 “Policy and Guidelines on Healthy Food and Beverage Choices in Schools and in DepEd Offices” sets the parameters in the promotion and sales of healthy foods and beverages both inside the school facilities particularly in canteens and including within the 100 meter radius outside the school policy.

“School officials are encouraged to advocate and work with their local government units in issuing local legislation to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages within at least 100 meter radius of the school,” the order stated. 

DepEd Order No. 13 categorized the healthy and unhealthy snacks and drinks for school children in three colors green, yellow and red. The “Green” category includes foods and drinks that are the best choices for a healthy school canteen as they contain a wide range of nutrients and are generally low in saturated and trans fat, sugar and salt.  The “Yellow” category includes foods and drinks that should be served carefully as they may contain some nutrients but at the same time also contain large amounts of saturated or trans fats and/or sugar and/or salt.

The “Red” category on the other hand are foods and drinks not recommended in the canteen menu because of their high amounts of saturated fat or sugar or salt and should not be served  in canteens. They may also provide excess energy or calories.

Accordingly, based on DepEd Order, “consumption of these foods and drinks outside the school premises is at the discretion of their parents”.  

DepEd identified these foods as soft drinks, alcoholic drinks , sports waters, sports drinks, flavoured mineral water, energy drinks, sweetened waters, powdered juice drinks, any processed fruit/vegetable juice with added sugar of more than 20 grams or 4 teaspoons per serving, any jelly, ice crushers and slushies.

Any ice cream/ice drops/ice candies, cakes and slices, donuts, sweet biscuits and pastries and other sweet bakery products, all types of chocolates, hard/chewy candies, chewing gums, marshmallows, lollipops, yema, etc., french fries, bicho-bicho, etc including all types of heavy salted snacks such as chips or chicharon, chicken skin, bacon, deep-fried foods including fish balls, kikiam, fruits in heavy syrup, sweetened fruits or vegetables or deep-fried.

100-meter radius

Other than encouraging intervention by local officials to limit the promotion of unhealthy foods through print ads such as posters, leaflets, brochures, comics, billboards, tarpaulins, selling is also a major concern.

While patronizing the consumption of these branded “unhealthy” foods and drinks available even less than the 100-radius required distance away from the schools are left to the restriction of the parents, the youth sector became really vulnerable and usually prey victims to the fascinating advertisements, marketing and actual sales of these products.

The new type of snacks, its bright and colorful packaging, the different forms and sizes greet and wave to them every time they go to school.  

DepEd Region 3 director May Eclar reaffirmed the institution’s main policy and thrust which is focused mainly within schools jurisdiction. However, she also acknowledges that in alarming cases and instances, the school heads make the necessary coordination with the local community officials.     

“If there are alarming concerns, the respective school officials make the necessary coordination with the barangay. It is much better if there are barangay and other local ordinances. If the concern is liquors or cigarettes, these are directly brought to the attention of the barangay leaders,” Eclar told NEWS CORE in a phone interview on Thursday.

She said that the unhealthy and healthy foods are also discussed in the DepEd curriculum.

“Iyong sa labas, hindi na namin masasagot iyon, pero sa mga lessons na integrate yang mga unhealthy foods dahil nasa DepEd curriculum yan” Eclar said.

The regional director also sees the need for the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to come up with their own specific policy and guidelines.

Technology and Livelihood Education (TLE) Supervisor Joel Basallo who is in-charge in the canteen operations in all the 20 towns under the Schools Division of Bulacan said the stores and food stalls selling the unhealthy foods within the 100 meter radius are prohibited.

He said that each school head covers at least three schools and its respective outside 100 meter radius vicinity to monitor if these unhealthy foods are being blatantly sold. The school heads, he said, use different strategies to address the concerns. But so far, he said, there have yet to be reports.

The real control for them however, he said lies among the parents and the students and their preparation of healthy “green” category foods in the school canteens. He said that the support and help of the barangay officials are really necessary.

“We will improve the monitoring. But there should really be coordination with barangay officials. We will discuss this in our forthcoming Man Com,” Basallo added.  

“Dapat sana katuwang namin ang DILG para sa mga barangay kasi hindi na namin saklaw ang labas ng schools. Ang control namin ay sa mga bata at magulang na huwag payagan o bantayan ang kanilang mga anak na bumili ng mga unhealthy foods. Doon talaga nagkakaproblema pagpasok at paglabas ng mga bata mula sa eskuwelahan lalo na kung malapit sa mga eskuwelahan ang mga sari-sari stores na nagbebenta ng mga unhealthy foods, chichirya, junk foods and soft drinks”.  

However, according to Basallo, many areas could not really comply with the 100 meter radius particularly the communities where residents have no other means of livelihood but to put up sari-sari stores in their areas including and most specifically targeting schools. “We have observed these but people, the store owners in the community, appeal to the schools to allow them to operate their stores,” he said.

Most of these are sari-sari stores in schools inside housing and relocation sites of former Informal Settlers from Metro Manila particularly in Pandi, Bocaue and Marilao towns.

According to DILG Bulacan Provincial Director Myrvi Apostol-Fabia, they do not have any official circular on the issue. “It will help to strengthen the implementation. Maybe, the DepEd can request the department to issue a circular for the barangay to closely monitor the implementation,’ she said.

Unhealthy foods as sin tax

The risks brought by the interference of the marketing and advertising industry shortens the life span of the Filipinos from 40-50%, according to a study, says Atty. Anna Bueno of ImagineLaw, a group which advocates for evidence-based policy solutions for people to live healthy and meaningful lives.

Today, according to Bueno, there is a low percentage of awareness of unhealthy foods before the public in general, particularly among the LGUs.  

She said there is now a pending bill in Congress on the elimination and regulation of trans fat in food products and that LGUs like Pasig City have their own sets of ordinances that regulate the sales and distribution of unhealthy food products.

Pasig City Ordinance No. 63 that was started to be implemented in 2017 mandates all public and private preparatory, elementary and secondary schools to promote healthy food and beverages, prohibiting the sales and promotion of all unhealthy food and beverages inside school gate and within 50 meters of the school.    

Dr. Dexter Galban, DepEd Assistant Secretary said there is a need to create programs for parents’ education in order to come up with mechanisms wherein they are made partners to help ensure their children eat well.

Galban recognizes the need for the DILG, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the DOH and the DepEd to act and implement a single policy about the unhealthy foods in school vicinity.

“Labas na sa amin ang 100 radius. It’s really the parents discretion but we always remind them to guide their children in choosing their snacks over unhealthy foods. All student councils can serve as watch dogs and empower them as advocates to help amplify it within the barangay. We need the intervention of the barangay, the city, province for a mechanism to get young people to act as partners down the grassroots. We highly encourage Sangguniang Kabataan to act on this. Ngayon pa lang ang mga students ma-inculcate na sa kanila ang advocacy against unhealthy foods in and out of schools. So when this is time for them to lead the town or the province and city, they will foster the no sponsorship, no advertising, no partnership on unhealthy foods,” Galban said.

According to him, laws on tobaccos and others in the sin tax law were easier to formulate, but the laws on unhealthy foods are different and will be discriminatory to create. “Madali nagawa ang batas sa case ng tobacco. Pero ito mas mahirap. This needs more stretching on the fight against obese and malnourishment but it will be very hard as packaging and advertising given the spectrum on safety and sweet foods, it is hard. It could be discriminatory,” he also pointed out. However, he sees high hopes with the partnership of all concerned government agencies including the media.  

Galban added however that itg is not right treat the manufacturers and private sectors as enemies, rather, they are encouraging them to join the advocacy, and maybe to reformulate their products, lessen or reduce the sugar and sodium. “It will be a culture change among them manufacturers”.

Armund Arguelles, OIC Division Chief, Health Promotion Bureau of DOH said they are also pushing for a legislation on marketing practices on unhealthy foods. The DOH, he said, have noticed quite a significant need for good nutrition among school kids and even adults. “Their nutrition is affected because of the high amount of processed sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. “We want to address these concerns, it is our responsibility to protect the children, we need to recognize the increase in obesity and other ailments because of unhealthy foods,” he said.  

These junior high students quenched their early morning thirst with a cold bottle of tea they grabbed in a convenience store just a step outside their school, Gen. Gregorio del Pilar Integrated School in Bulakan, Bulacan before attending their Christmas party on Dec. 12. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

The absence of any law that will regulate the marketing, advertisement and sales of the unhealthy foods is now a driving force to push for the marketing of the healthy food, Arguelles added.

“The only one we have is the milk code for breastfeeding. We do not have a law to regulate unhealthy food products. There is a need to focus on enforcement. For now, although there is a policy, we need the DILG, LGU to be very vigilant. To protect our children from unhealthy food, it entails the whole community,” Arguelles also said.  

According to him, the unhealthy foods can be treated also like cigarettes and alcohol and there can be a created regional task force to watch the implementation of laws and policies on unhealthy foods.  

Needed legislation against unhealthy foods

Atty. Daphne Marcelo, also of ImagineLaw said the absence of the law on regulations and control on marketing of unhealthy foods worsens the status quo. A law is needed to bring the regulation down to the LGUs, to the barangays, she said. “There is simply no law, we lack law on unhealthy food marketing and it is not enough that a law will be created for the national level. It should be felt and implemented down to the barangay levels”.

According to Dr. Tina Langit-Bagro, an advocate on healthy and nutritional foods for children, salty foods cause Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), obesity and even mental health disease.  


Cold coffee and a snack make the morning for these senior high school students of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar Integrated School in Bulakan, Bulacan just before attending their class Christmas party on Dec. 12. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

Bagro sees limiting the exposure to advertisements by both parents and kids as a key factor in combating unhealthy foods. “Even doctors have very limited nutrition knowledge on food and exercises. In terms of accessibility, sa mga malls, iyon mga breads ang available at konti ang nagbebenta ng fruits, walang mga fruit stands. We need to change the food culture, the preparation, sales, promotion,”she said.

According to Bagro, she even attended a cooking class on vegetable dishes including grains that are rich in fibers for the health and nutrition of her children. “Fibers are needed by the body. Processed foods are engineered foods. Happier foods are veggies which are also good for the good bacteria and lessens the stress and toxin in our body,” she added.

Emmanuel Mattela, from the Nutrition and Dietetic office of Taytay, Rizal, said salt consumption must be restricted because it results in renal problems. In Taytay, he said, they formulate diet and nutrition program to limit the daily salt and even sugar intake of school children.  

According to Marcelo, this collaboration of their policy law group, the media and the stakeholders is one of the first attempts to create necessary policies and laws to address the pressing challenge about the gravity of marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods. “We are not helpless although we are the first to climb this mountain. For our children, we need to succeed in this challenge. We need re-prioritization.  We are here to change the culture and environment. We can push for unhealthy foods to also be treated by the government as sin tax like cigarettes and liquors,” she said.

Marcelo also noted the very low percentage of public awareness about the issue and that unless the government acts on this problem, the problem will just remain a problem and will not be addressed. That’s why a strong commitment from the government through legislation is a must. There should be responsible marketing practices, fair business ways, a healthy food environment and a parent’s guide to their children to consume healthy foods,” she also said.

Angelica Reyes, from Phil Legislators Committee on Population and Legislation Advocacy said they are pushing for a regulation to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods. “Marketing and advertising companies are funding millions and millions worth of money only for the Filipino children to be wasted,” she said.

“A severely wasted na bata, buto’t balat,” Reyes added.

“Bawas Patalastas Para sa Malusog at Masayang Bata,” is what everyone should help advocate, Marcelo reiterated.

This article is funded and supported by ImagineLaw in cooperation with Gugma PR.  

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