Some say ‘if you landed one job and consumed your entire career life into it, your life was boring’... but it’s a different story to Maria Gisela Matammu-Lonzaga as her career journey was never boring, it was, in fact, full of adventure, joy, excitement, and very meaningful.
A registered nutritionist-dietitian, Meggie as her friends fondly call her, spent her 38 years in government service in the pursuit of health and nutrition program development in Cagayan Valley Region.
A native of Tuao, Cagayan, Meggie finished her Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition at the College of the Holy Spirit in Manila, and her Master of Science in Nutritional Science at Massey University, New Zealand where she received a second honor award. She also pursued her second master’s degree at the Development Academy of the Philippines in July 2016 where she received a Most Visible Re-entry Project Award.
She entered to government service in 1985 as Nutritionist-Dietitian II at the Provincial Health Office of Cagayan. She transferred to the National Nutrition Council in January 1992 as Nutrition Officer III until she became a full-fledged Nutrition Program Coordinator up to present.
With her years in government service, she is, no doubt, a part and a witness to the improvement of health and nutrition in the Cagayan Valley region.
She was among those who trek in the mountains of the valley, ride on horseback or a boat withstanding the raft water waves just to reach remote communities to educate and instill awareness to parents and individuals on nutrition, the era when the region is still battling against malnutrition.
One of her legacies is the creation of nutrition offices or sections in the Local Government Units as well as the creation and upgrading of nutrition officer positions in the early 1990s.
Together with the then Nutrition Program Coordinator, Milagros G. Perez, they drafted the position paper and advocated the program to all the local chief executives as well as in the legislative councils, thus, provincial, city and some municipal LGUs now have their respective nutrition officers.
In the 1980s, when goiter was prevalent in Cagayan, she was one of the nutrition team members to advocate the use of iodized salt to alter the trend.
“It was the time in which even male individuals have goiter. This is an indication of severe iodine deficiency. So we exerted effort to convince the people and local leaders to ensure that all commercial salts for human consumption must be properly iodized,” Lonzaga said.
Meggie is also instrumental in the passage of a local policy urging the local governments and regional line agencies to help monitor the strict implementation of the Salt Iodization law to combat iodine deficiency prevalence in Cagayan Valley Region.
The Regional Nutrition Council, in which Meggie sits as the head secretariat, has also helped strengthen the Bantay Asin Task Force which aims to monitor the entry of commercial salt into the region.
“The Regional Nutrition Committee established checkpoints in Sta Fe, Nueva Vizcaya and Santa Praxedes, Cagayan to check if all salt entering the region is properly iodized. If not, we send them back to their place of origin. That is how serious we are in the combat against iodine deficiency problem,” Lonzaga stated.
The Cagayan Valley Region has been a recipient of numerous awards on nutrition at the national level. Region 2 is recognized in various categories including the Nutrition Honor Award, Consistent Regional Winner in Nutrition, Outstanding Barangay Nutrition Scholar and now National Outstanding District Nutrition Program Coordinator. This is due to the efforts of NNC Region II under the previous leaders as well as Meggie and her team who guide, coach, mentor and train the local government units’ Local Nutrition Frontline Workers and Local Nutrition Committees in Nutrition Program Management that led to improved nutrition in the different areas of the region.
When she studied at the Development Academy of the Philippines, her re-entry project on “Overweight and Obesity Reduction among School-Aged Children in Diffun, Quirino” was lauded as the most visible re-entry project.
In her study, she recommended to the local government the advocacy of obesity and overweight control and prevention mechanisms to include physical activities, nutrition information and education for behavior change and ensuring a healthy food environment for the children. This study is now also a benchmark document of other LGUs with a high prevalence rate of overweight and obesity.
Meggie greatly acknowledges that multi-sectoral collaboration, networking and teamwork, are keys to successful nutrition program implementation.
Truly, Meggie’s enthusiasm for advocating nutrition in the communities never fades. Her devotion in guiding the nutrition officers to develop and implement programs that will improve the nutritional status of the people of Cagayan Valley is a testament to how she is deeply passionate as a nutrition specialist. #(OTB/JKC/ALM/PIA Region 2)