, June 16, 2024

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The Nutribun Returns, Reviving Myths and Misery of a Bygone Marcos Era

  •   2 min reads
The Nutribun Returns, Reviving Myths and Misery of a Bygone Marcos Era
FMSC Distribution Partner - Philippines via Flickr
by Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

It is not only the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr making a comeback in the Philippines. A fortified bread known as nutribun, and the controversy surrounding it, has also reappeared.

This month, a version of the snack – which was previously given to schoolchildren to tackle hunger during Marcos Sr’s regime – was spotted being distributed in Consolacion, Cebu, in the Central Visayas region. Packets bore the name of Senator Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator, according to news reports.

“No child went hungry then because there was an abundance of nutribun,” she said of her father’s regime.

Marcos Sr’s regime was far from a golden era for the Philippine economy. From 1984-85, the Philippines experienced its worst postwar recession, driven by “wanton borrowing and spending, [that] was not at all sustainable” and crony capitalism, says Jan Carlo B Punongbayan, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines school of economics.
“In the throes of the economic recession, as much as 60% of Filipino families were considered poor,” he says. Inflation peaked at 50% in 1984.

SamHolt6, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Factcheckers in the Philippines also point out that, contrary to claims shared widely online, nutribun wasn’t a Marcos initiative. It was actually developed by the US agency for foreign assistance to tackle hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines. “USAID Nutrition was responsible for development of the formula to justify a claim for nutritious snack food,” said a document published by the agency, adding that the US Food for Peace program, and the humanitarian agency CARE were responsible for donated food commodities. USAID collaborated with the Marcos administration in areas such as distribution.

The dynasty’s matriarch, Imelda Marcos, has been accused of seeking to take full credit for the product by placing her name on the packaging. “The wives of several American officials helped package rice and nutribuns (a horrible bun made with high-vitamin, milk-content flour invented by an AID official and donated by USAID) for distribution to flood victims,” writes the former USAID media adviser Nancy Dammann in her memoir, which is quoted by the Philippine Star, as she describes relief efforts after the devastating floods of 1972.

Dammann writes: “The nutribun bags were being stamped with the slogan ‘Courtesy of Imelda Marcos-Tulungan project’”. Tulungan was a health and nutrition project led by the former first lady.

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

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