LB BNS: out with the old, in with the new

“Volunteers kami, hindi empleyado ng munisipyo,” Baby de Castro said about her appointment as barangay nutrition scholar (BNS) representing Barangay San Antonio in Los Baños, Laguna. She has been serving as such for 19 years now.

De Castro said she fell in love with her work. She enjoys attending to tasks and projects such as “Operation Timbang,” community health, and environment sanitation among many others and did not notice she has been doing volunteer work for almost two decades already. Her willingness to serve saw her through different administrations.

In July, most of her co-BNS were laid off, and a new set of BNS was hired. Of the old group, only five remained, de Castro included.

Nutrition scholars

The 14 newly-hired BNS were endorsed by their respective barangay captains to the mayor. According to de Castro, it is the mayor that decides who gets hired.

At the moment, the distribution of slots for BNS in Los Baños is as follows: one for each of Barangays Bagong Silang, Baybayin, Lalakay, Maahas, Mayondon, Malinta, Putho Tuntungin, San Antonio, Tadlac and Timugan; two for Barangays Anos, Bambang and Bayog; and three for Barangay Batong Malake. This brings the total to 19 BNS in the municipality.

The new set of BNS is now undergoing training to become certified. The training, held every Wednesdays and Fridays, started on July 10, according to Cristy Libre, one of the new hires. There are plans for a graduation ceremony, but there is no official date yet. Despite not being certified, the new BNS have started to participate in development work like Operation Timbang and feeding programs. They also helped the people affected by the habagat (monsoon) and the typhoon Maring.

A BNS is a trained community worker who links the community with service providers. Presidential Decree No. 1569 mandate that every barangay should have its representative to monitor the nutritional status of children and/or community members with nutrition problems.

Qualifications, duties, and benefits of BNS

Dr. Maria Cerezo, head BNS, said that these nutrition scholars do house-to-house checks in their respective barangays to record data, monitor malnourished children, and distribute nutritional implements like vitamins and medicines. This is in relation to Operation Timbang, one of the major programs held from January to March each year. She also said that BNS not only do projects related to nutrition; sometimes, they were tasked to help the senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs), interview applicants for the municipal scholarship program, and distribute seedlings provided by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

To qualify as BNS, an applicant should be a bonafide resident of his/her barangay, of legal age, at least a primary school graduate, is physically and mentally fit, and willing to learn and to share what he/she has learned with the community. Once appointed, a BNS gets monthly honoraria ranging from Php 1,200 to Php 4,000.

The honoraria, according to de Castro, comes from the allotted 20% of the municipality’s General Fund in the municipality.

“Malaki na ang 20% at parte lang ng 20% ang honoraria na Php 4,000,” de Catro said. She also shared that they sometimes receive funds from the barangays usually Php1,000 to Php2,000.

Evangeline “Vangie” Domaguing, a new BNS, said that she volunteered because she wants the experience, the “income” and the knowledge about nutrition since all these will be useful to her as a mother. She also added that her previous employment in the municipal office made it easier for her to be a part of BNS.

Dr. Cerezo said the Mayor Perez expressed his intent to call the BNS as Municipal Nutrition Scholars (MNS). But according to the law, the allowed label is BNS.

Duration of service

As a new BNS, Domaguing believes that those they replaced were laid off due to less-than-impressive performance: Kapag ayaw ng service mo [bilang BNS], whether you like it or not, kailangan kang tanggalin,” she said, referring to the seventeen who were fired and had since then replaced by 14 new members.

Renalyn Tatad, BNS from Barangay Tadlac, is one of the scholars whose services were terminated in July. Contrary to what Domanguing said, her take is that if the administration does not like your behavior and your service, you would be replaced. She also added that the new administration decided their termination.

When Perez was municipal mayor from 2007 to 2010, there were 21 BNS, and their services were retained by Anthony Genuino when he was mayor between 2010 and 2013 according to de Castro. She knows about these things being one of the longest in service. But when Perez was once again elected, almost all of the scholars were laid off and replaced by new ones.

While the post of BNS is not co-terminous, which means dependent on the duration in office of the appointing official, “[d]epende pa rin sa susunod na mayor kung tatanggalin ka o hindi,” de Castro said.

Volunteers not municipal employees

PD No. 1569 states that a BNS is a barangay-based nutrition scholar that delivers nutrition services and other related activities to the barangay. Also, they are called volunteers or trained community workers that serve the municipality. They are not municipal employees.

But Tatad, though laid off as a BNS, believes that BNS should have benefits other than honoraria, even if they are not employees. She said it would also be good if they are given insurance coverage because of the fieldwork and community projects.

On the basis of performance assessments, de Castro said that the mayor does not believe in reports they file. The annual evaluation of their performance is based on their behavior and how well they are known in their respective barangays.

“Hindi sila tiwala sa papel pero sa mga tao sa barangay, [tiwala sila]. Kapag hindi ka effective ay kailangan kang palitan,” de Castro added.

Right now, de Castro sees herself as continuing with her volunteer work. She plans to stay as BNS as long as she could, and as long as she was not asked to leave her position. (Arielina Arevalo)

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