It’s not just the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr returning to the Philippines. A fortified bread known as nutribun, and the controversy surrounding it, has also resurfaced.
This month, a snack version – previously given to students to deal with hunger during the Marcos Sr regime – was found to be distributed in Consolacion, Cebu, Central Visayas. The packages were named after Sen. Imee Marcos, the daughter of the late dictator, according to news reports.
At a separate event in the southern city of Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao, the senator sparked controversy by suggesting that nutribun had successfully prevented any child starvation under her father – a claim that is untrue. It was so filling that you could hardly finish a portion, said Imee Marcos, adding “it’s like cement in your belly”.
“No child was hungry then because there was plenty of nutribun,” she said of her father’s status.
Proponents of Marcos say nutribun is a symbol of the family’s commitment to protecting the poor and vulnerable.
For others, nutribun is a reminder of the financial misery and mismanagement that took place during Marcos Sr’s rule – and its distortion helped push Ferdinand Marcos’s son and namesake to victory in an election last month. He was accused of minimizing the abuses that took place during his father’s regime and has claimed that he was too young to take responsibility for them at the time. Thousands were tortured, imprisoned or killed under Marcos Sr., While $ 10 billion was looted from state coffers.
The myths that celebrate nutribun are being developed by social media influencers who allied with the Marcoses “to eliminate the facts about the Marcos regime – that in the last years of the Marcos regime, there was financial turmoil, there was mass looting. Says Francisco Jayme. Guiang, professor of history at the University of the Philippines. Instead, his status is portrayed as a time of progress, when food was plentiful. “There was free food, there was nutribun, so was the economy [must have been] stable “, adds Guiang.
The Marcos Sr regime was far from a golden age for the Philippine economy. From 1984-85, the Philippines experienced its worst post-war recession, driven by “unsecured borrowing and spending, [that] “It’s not sustainable at all,” says Jan Carlo B Punongbayan, an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics.
“In the vortex of the economic downturn, 60% of Filipino families were considered poor,” he says. Inflation peaked at 50% in 1984.
“There are a lot of signs of hunger, intense hunger, gossip at that time,” says Punongbayan. According to Unicef, 140,000 children suffered second- and third-degree malnutrition from 1984-86 in the Negros Occidental.
Factcheckers in the Philippines also point out that, contrary to the claims widely circulated on the internet, nutribun was not Marcos’s initiative. It was actually developed by the US foreign aid agency to tackle hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines. “USAID Nutrition was responsible for developing the formula to justify the claim of nutritious snacks,” said a document released by the agency, adding that the US Food for Peace program and CARE were responsible for the food products donated. USAID partnered with Marcos’s management in areas such as distribution.
The matriarch of the dynasty, Imelda Marcos, has been accused of trying to get the full praise for the product by putting her name on the package. “The spouses of several U.S. officials have helped pack rice and nutribuns (a horrible bun made of high-fat flour and milk invented by an AID employee and donated by USAID) for distribution to flood victims.” USAID Media, Nancy. Dammann in her memoirs, quoted by the Philippine Star, as describing relief efforts after the catastrophic floods of 1972.
Dammann writes: “The nutribun bags were sealed with the slogan ‘Courtesy of Imelda Marcos-Tulungan project'”. Tulungan was a health and nutrition program led by the former First Lady.
For many older voters who remember the 1972 flood, “nutribun is almost synonymous with the Marcoses,” Guiang said. “It was a case of credit snatching.”
In recent years, some local governments have revived nutribun programs, including in Ilocos Norte, the Marcos family stronghold, and in Manila.
The Marcos family also continued to align with the brand. The nutribun-style leaflets at Consolacion mark just one of many recent snack reappearances. Senator Imee Marcos’s office also distributed a similar product in December to communities affected by Hurricane Odette and in July last year in Bulacan as part of a month-long diet.