Textbooks + Coke = Mass Mediocritization?

Literally one for the books, the Department of Education (DepEd) inked a deal with Coca Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI) tapping the latter to deliver textbooks to public elementary and high schools throughout the country. The Anak ng Bayan Youth Party asks, Why Coca-Cola?

By Carl Marc Ramota

Coca-cola trucks will soon be a familiar sight even in far-flung public schools after the Department of Education (DepEd) recently inked a partnership deal with Coca Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI), producer of popular beverage Coke, tapping the latter to deliver textbooks to public elementary and high schools throughout the country.

The Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc.(CCBPI) has started distributing some 1.3 million textbooks to far-flung public schools last Aug. 15. This is part of DepEd’s Textbook Count Project wherein the department taps the services of the private sector in delivering textbooks so as to avoid “ghost deliveries.”

Textbook shortage has been a yearly predicament for public schools in the country. In this year alone, textbook shortage was pegged at 34.7 million. However, the Anak ng Bayan (nation’s youth) Youth Party questioned the DepEd’s choice of CCBPI as partner especially since the department has just recently revitalized its school nutrition program.

Why Coca-Cola?

“How could DepEd not see the irony of vowing to make children healthier and at the same time forging a deal with a company making unhealthy drinks?” said Raymond Palatino, vice president of Anak ng Bayan Youth Party.

“Imagine the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) tapping Philip Morris to deliver wheelchairs for its patients. Imagine the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) allowing Lydia’s Lechon to open a canteen in its building. That is how we appreciate the deployment of Coke to deliver books for our children,” he pointed out.

Palatino stressed that the education department should recognize the global trend of ridding schools of unhealthy food products which include soda. He said that in the United States (U.S.) junk foods are banned in the states of Alabama, Arizona and Connecticut.

Acceding to pressure from health advocates and parents, the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Cadbury Schweppes in the United States (U.S.) have agreed to extend the ban on soft drink sales to include middle schools. These companies have already pulled out their drinks from elementary schools.

Bloomberg News reported that five of the 10 largest school districts in the United States have banned soft drinks and many other districts are considering such restrictions.

“How can schools effectively teach our kids to avoid eating food with too much sugar content or to patronize healthy native drinks when you have the big truck of Coke happily welcomed in school premises for distributing textbooks?” he emphasized.

“Educators have pointed out that students can learn more from the ‘hidden curriculum’ in schools or from messages that are conveyed through actions and statements sanctioned by school personalities. If you have Coke doing a good deed recognized by the school, students may not question the nutrition facts of its products. Students would only remember Coke as a tireless champion of education and not a devious profit-hungry company responsible for making the drink which cannot make children more healthy and intelligent,” Palatino added.

Corporate interests

The Anak ng Bayan leader also explained that for Coca-Cola the delivery of textbooks is a promotional gimmick.

“It wants a market for its products. What is the hassle of delivering books if you have a potential 20 million Filipino students who will be enticed to drink Coke while they read?” Palatino asked.

In the first half of 2004 alone, CCBPI’s net income was P942 million. Its net sales revenues totaled P14.2 billion in the same period.

CCBPI is largely owned by San Miguel Corporation, one of the biggest food manufacturer and distributors in the Philippines, which posted consolidated revenues of P100.6 billion during the first semester of this year alone.

Health risk

A 2002 study conducted by the Philippine Congress showed that about 15.6 million or more than 60 percent of the 25 million Filipino children (below 18 years old) were malnourished.

Palatino said that the promotion of Coca Cola in schools will not only worsen the malnutrition problem but will also pose a serious health risk to students.

One of the active ingredients of carbonated drinks, particularly diet sodas is Aspartame, better known as NutraSweet. This was approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about 20 years ago, paving the way for the diet soda boom.

In the years since, a number of people have begun to unearth disturbing facts about NutraSweet. A website, http://www.aspartamekills.com/ listed down some harmful effects of aspartame, saying that the brain drug can be broken down into three amino acid components, aspartate, phenylalanine, and methanol. All three can be broken down into smaller entities, called metabolites, which can be toxic. For example, methanol, or wood alcohol, can spontaneously become formaldehyde, while phenylalanine can decompose into diketopiperazine, which is a carcinogen.

In fact, NutraSweet was credited for causing everything from multiple sclerosis to Gulf War syndrome. But what hits most people is the “aspartame disease.” Symptoms of aspartame disease include headaches and dizziness, among others. In February 1994, the U.S. Department of Heath released a list of 92 symptoms that occurred when people had an adverse reaction to NutraSweet, one of which was death.

“We are a country with predilection for textbook scandals. Before, we have the textbooks of mass mediocritization. Now that Coke will deliver the books, we may have textbooks of mass mediocritization that will cause poor health conditions in the future. If CCBPI was chosen because of its nationwide network, why not tap barangay or Sangguniang Kabataan units instead?” Palatino concluded. (Bulatlat.com)

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