Congresswoman Leni Robredo Aims to Ban Soda from SchoolsJune 26, 2014
While other countries have already taken steps to ban unhealthy food, a similar bill is being pushed in the Philippines to ban soda and unhealthy drinks in schools around the country. The bill is called The Healthy Beverages Options Act 4021, or House Bill 4021 authored by Congresswoman Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo of Camarines Sur, and Dinagat Islands Representative Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao, as petitioned by a ten-year old boy named Daniel “Chip” Gatmaytan.
House Bill 4021 regulates the availability of beverages to children in schools from preparatory to high school. The proposed statute says that all schools shall educate students of the effects of consuming unhealthy food and drinks, including sugar, to the body. It also seeks that soft drinks, drinks containing caffeine and additional sweeteners, and fruit-based drinks with less than 50% real fruit juice will not be provided or sold in schools. Potable water will be provided by all schools for free, while the selling of fruit juice with at least 50% real fruit juice content, low or fat-free and calcium-fortified milk will be encouraged.
Robredo was able to explain more about the bill at a ‘juice party’ organized by Fly Ace Corporation in support of the bill last Thursday, June 19 for guests, bloggers, and media. In the spirit of the bill, the presentation came after a lecture on the health benefits of juice drinks by Professor Luchie Callanta RND, MSN of Center of Culinary Arts Manila and University of the Philippines College of Home Economics.
The bill is more than just an answer to the growing rise of obesity in the country, says Robredo. While doing research to help push the bill in congress, Robredo found that a number of of Philippine public schools, especially those in rural and provincial areas, sold softdrinks because of a lack of availability of potable water in their area.
Robredo emphasized that the bill has not yet defined the specific prohibited beverages: “Walang branding…dine-describe lang kung anong klaseng drinks yung kailangan i-ban (there’s no branding, it’s just describing what kind of drinks need to be banned). We were already in the process of defining the definitions, but we decided to already file the bill, to commence the legislative process, because we wanted to have it out within the sixteenth congress.”
Robredo laments the long process involved in getting a bill approved. She said that a bill is approved faster in the senate as it only has twenty-four senators, while the house [of representatives] has two hundred and ninety-two members reading through what may be more than one version of the bill. While other bills, such as the Freedom of Information Bill, is still being read due to its multiple versions in the house, the Healthy Beverage Options Act only has one version. “We only have to contend with opposing interests groups to have this passed on committee level,” says Robredo, “The definitions we have refined will be presented on committee level.”
Should the bill be signed into law, the Department of Health and the Department of Education will be the agencies to create, and put into the effect the implementing rules and regulations. DepEd will be tasked to implement provisions, conducting periodic compliance reviews. Those violating provisions will be fined P100,000.
Once the bill is passed, Robredo says that they hope they can also expand it to prohibit sales of sodas, and the other banned drinks within proximity of schools.
The bill was first proposed in 2011, in a campaign initiated by Gatmaytan after doing extensive research on the effects of sugar on health for a social studies project in grade two. Gatmaytan is now in fifth grade, and he is still pursuing the passing of House Bill 4021. When asked why he believes in the cause, Gatmaytan says, “Because I care about children’s health, I want them to be healthy.”
When asked if there was anything he’d like to tell fellow kids and other adults about the bill, he just says, “Please help me support this bill and drink healthy.”
Robredo also encourages those in support of the bill to write their representatives to push for this bill to be passed.