MANILA - For more than a week now, several families have gathered along Mindanao Avenue Extension in Metro Manila under the punishing heat, carrying placards.
“Help, food milk for my baby," the placards read.
Julito, a carpenter, said he couldn't afford to buy milk for his one-year-old son after the lockdown caused by the coronavirus disease pandemic shut down his livelihood.
Food packs that he received from the local government only consist of rice, canned goods, and instant noodles, he said.
He hasn't also received emergency subsidy from the national government's social amelioration progarm.
"'Yon sana ang inaasahan sana naming makarating dahil ang hirap kung may bibilhin, gaya ng diaper tapos gatas," he said.
May, who is about to give birth next month, also braved the heat to ask for donations. Her husband also lost his job due to the lockdown.
"Sobrang hirap dahil walang trabaho asawa ko tapos malapit na akong manganganak. Saan ako kukuha ng panggastos namin?" she said.
In Taytay, Rizal, some parents asked for milk supply from village officers in San Isidro.
A grandmother named Julieta said her 2 grandchildren, aged 2 and 2 months old, have not had milk since March after their father was forced to stop working.
"'Yong akin pong apo kapag wala na siya madede iyak siya nang iyak tapos dadalhin niya sa akin 'yong bote niya," she said.
"'Yong kaniyang tatay wala naman maibigay. Ang gagawin na lang niya ay ihalo ang asukal at tubig tapos ang bata naman nabubusog," she added.
The village's Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) earlier gave milk donations, but had to stop.
SK chair Arky Manning recently received a letter from the Center for Health, CALABARZON, which is under the Department of Health, asking for his explanation for supposedly violating Executive Order 51 of the Philippine Milk Code, which prohibits the distribution of formula milk and other alternatives to breastmilk.
Manning explained they do not distribute formula milk randomly and that the money spent to buy milk came from donations.
Julieta lamented when she heard this.
“Siya na nga lang po inaasahan namin, matitigil pa,” she said.
The DOH addressed this concern Wednesday afternoon, saying local government units are allowed to procure milk supply for non-breastfeeding families since COVID-19 is a public health emergency.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, reiterated that formula milk should not be given to those 6 months and below.
She added that marketing or advertising of formula milk as a substitute milk for babies is still prohibited as breastfeeding should still be promoted.
Besides procuring formula milk, Vergeire said there are 116 milk banks in National Capital Region that store pasteurized human milk. This milk went through strict screening, and is guaranteed safe for infants and kids.
At the Quezon General Hospital, milk bank chief Dr. Shahani Duque said they had COVID-19 patients who just gave birth, but could not breastfeed because of their condition.
“Puwedeng talagang matindi 'yong pagtama ng sakit sa kanila so ito po 'yong babies nila ang talagang priority namin na bigyan ng gatas dito po sa ospital,” she said.
The milk bank is open 7 days a week for those in need of pasteurized milk, she added.