Bernardo M. Villegas
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First 1000 Days of Life (Part 1)

          I have been an educator for at least the last sixty years of my life (I started teaching at the age of 18).  The greatest satisfaction of an educator is to see former students excelling in their respective occupations and most of all making a significant contribution to the good of Philippine society.  Last June 2, I experienced one of these happy moments. In an economic briefing I gave in the City of Lucena, I witnessed how one of my former students at the University of Asia and the Pacific,  who is now Governor of the Province of Quezon, has pioneered in promoting the health of children from the womb to their second birthday.  Governor David Suarez, who is serving his third term as Governor of Quezon, has made it possible for the province to receive the award of LGU Champion of First 1000 Days of Life.  If other LGU heads follow the example of Governor Suarez, the Philippines will continue for a long, long time to benefit from what is known as the demographic dividend.  It will continue to be praised by economists and social scientists from all over the world for having a young and growing population.  Every child born will grow up to be a real treasure to the Philippine economy.

         The rationale for the First One Thousand Days initiative of the Province of Quezon was very well captured in a message from Ms. Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Country Representative:  “The right to adequate nutrition is a fundamental, primary right for children.  Its fulfilment is essential for life, health, intergenerational development and dignity.  Yet, malnutrition is one of the biggest threats to the well-being of Filipino children…Stunted children are more prone to disease and death.  Stunting will reduce IQ by 5 to 11 points and, as such, it is associated with poor school performance, fewer years of completed schooling, and up to 50% less earning in adulthood.  Stunting inhibits children from reaching their full physical and mental potential.  After the second year of life, the damage caused by stunting is permanent and largely irreversible.  Stunting is one of the most significant impediments to human development.  With an estimated 4.2 million stunted children under 5 years, the Philippines is one of the top 10 countries in the world featuring the highest number of stunted children…”

         “Studies show that ensuring optimal nutrition in the first 1000 Days—from a mother’s pregnancy up to a child’s second year of life—is the most cost effective response to ensuring children’s well-being and health.  The first 1000 Days is crucial to the physical and mental growth and development of children.  It is a pathway out of poverty for poor households and a driver of nationwide growth.”  I must add that a program to address the stunting of children is the most important and priority step among all poverty alleviation programs such as basic health services and basic education for all.  If the first 1000 days of the life of a child are not addressed, many efforts to improve health services, basic education, water, energy and other utilities for the poor will have little success because the absorptive capacity of human beings whose growth in their first 1000 days of life had been stunted would be direly limited.

         Actually, the Province of Quezon has just been exemplary in implementing to the letter many existing laws promulgated by the Philippine Republic.  Among them are EO 51, s. 1986 National Code of Breast milk Substitutes, Breast milk Supplement and other Related Products; RA 7600 Rooming-in and Breastfeeding Act of 1992; RA 7846 An Act Requiring Compulsory Immunization Against Hepatitis B for infants and children below eight (8) years old, Amending for the purpose, P.D. NO. 996 and appropriating funds therefore; RA 8043 Inter Country Adoption Act of 1995; RA 8552 Domestic Adoption Act of 1998; RA 8980 Early Childhood Care Development (ECCD) Act; RA 9255 An Act Allowing illegitimate children to use the surname of their father, amending for the purpose article 176 of E.O. No. 209, otherwise known as the Family Code of the Philippines; RA 9262 Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004; RA 9288 An Act Promulgating a Comprehensive Policy and a National System for Ensuring Newborn Screening;  RA 9709 Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 2009; RA 10028 Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009;  RA 10152 Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act of 2011; EO 209 Series of 1986 Family Code of the Philippines; RA 10410 Early Year’s Act of 2013; and HB 899 The First 1000 Days Act.    The genius of the leaders of Quezon Province was to put into practice what all these laws have provided for.  They did not have to reinvent the wheel.  Governor Suarez and his Provincial Board are exemplars of what the Executive Branch of every democratic government should be doing.  Those interested in learning from their experiences may email  (To be continued).