MISSING CONTEXT: Why is there a ‘Nutribun’ during the Marcos regime?

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

PHOTO: Philippine Star

Senator Imee Marcos took pride in the historical “nutribun” during her father’s regime as she spoke in a thanksgiving event in Davao City after his brother, President-elect Bongbong Marcos, amassed a large number of votes in the area during the May 9 polls.

“Nutribun! Walang nagugutom na bata noon, kay nutribun ang sagana… May kasama pang tagaktak ng cream, gatas,” said the late dictator’s daughter as she expressed her family’s gratitude before residents of Brgy. Vicente Duterte and Brgy. Buhangin on Saturday, June 5.

“Ang mga lolas and mommies, talagang puro [charged] hanggang ngayon dahil powered by nutribun,” Marcos added, referring to Filipinos who have lived under the martial law years of his father.

The “Nutribun'' is not an original project of the Marcoses, nor is it one of the most notable accomplishments of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr, as contrary to how Sen. Imee Marcos painted it. 

Nutribun is a “ready-to-eat and complete meal” developed by the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) mission in the country during the late 1960s. 

Reports pointed out that it was designed as a supplementary food in the feeding programs to mainly serve as food during emergencies like that of disasters and to combat malnutrition among elementary school students. 

A 1979 document made available online by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), explained that "USAID Nutrition was responsible for development of the formula to justify a claim for nutritious snack food ... [It] made its decision to combine its Food for Peace and its nutrition activities and to target its food donations to the malnourished child population."

In December 1977, under the rule of the late strongman, the issue of War on Hunger in the country was at its height with around 2.7 million underweight or malnourished children, particularly in public elementary schools. To address the problem, a central part of the government’s food and nutrition scheme was to establish a school feeding program 

Moreover, a report published by the Official Gazette in 1970 showed that the USAID's Nutrition and Population offices collaborated with the Philippine government through "Project Tulungan" — a bayanihan program led by Marcos' wife Imelda in the same year. 

Nutribun became more popular when Marcos Sr. placed the entire Luzon under “a state of public calamity” in the aftermath of Typhoon Gloring — dubbed as the “Great Luzon Flood of 1972. Tallying at least 543 deaths, pieces of Nutribun were “airdropped” to people in severely devastated areas, according to Dr. Grace Goldsmith in the journal International Nutrition in 1974. 

When the snacks were distributed to the residents of the flooded greater Manila and other provinces in Central Luzon, the bags used for distribution were already stamped with slogans that say “Courtesy of Imelda Marcos – Tulungan Project.”

Moreover, the baked product was not given to children for free, as stated in a fact-check report published by Vera Files in 2020 entitled “Marcos propaganda in a time of plague." The Facebook partnered fact-checking arm cleared that the buns were originally sold for 10 centavos each. By the mid-1980s, the price spiked to 25 centavos. 


Edited by Lance Arevada
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