Mayor Arcam Istarul of Tipo-Tipo: Drawing strength from established relationship with fellow nutrition champions


“I aspire to be remembered as a leader who genuinely cared about the well-being of every member of our community. This is not just a position for me; it is my heartfelt passion to create a positive impact in your lives.”

At 24, Arcam Istarul became Mayor of Tipo-Tipo, inheriting a legacy of public service from his father and accomplished siblings. His father, Ingatun “Tong” Istarul, was a respected three-term mayor, while his siblings held prominent positions in the community. Despite being the fourth of nine siblings and facing societal expectations, Arcam embraced his role, starting as a youth council member and eventually becoming the youngest municipal councilor. He took on the mayoral seat at 24, defying norms and leveraging his family’s achievements to lead Tipo-Tipo to new heights, particularly in nutrition initiatives.

Tipo-Tipo, a third-class municipality in Basilan, has a population of 25,531 as of 2020. Historically plagued by conflict, Mayor Tong during his last term, played a pivotal role in supporting Governor Jim Hataman-Salliman’ peace efforts to counter violent extremism, paving the way for progress in the municipality.

Long-time relationship with ZFF

The Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF) initially partnered with Tipo-Tipo in late 2014 through the Health Leaders for the Poor-Municipal Leadership and Governance Program (HLP-MLGP). Mayor Tong Istarul spearheaded initiatives such as obtaining PhilHealth accreditation for the Rural Health Unit, establishing a 24/7 Birthing Facility, recruiting more Barangay Health Workers (BHWs), providing additional benefits for BHWs, and enhancing the functionality of the Local Health Board. These efforts led to significant improvements in health indicators, particularly in Facility-Based Delivery (FBD) rates, which rose from 0% in 2014 to 21% by 2016.

Mayor Arcam, the second local chief executive (LCE) engaged by ZFF-KGJF (Kristian Gerhard Jebsen Foundation), joined the Partnership for Nutrition Governance Program (PNGP) after expressing his commitment to participate. The program, which aimed to strengthen nutrition governance, launched the Municipal Nutrition Governance Program (MNGP) approximately one year later. In January 2022, Tipo-Tipo, along with Maluso, Sumisip, Isabela City and Lamitan City, joined Batch 1 of the MNGP.

Nutrition situation before the MNGP

Dr. Nurkhan Istarul, the Municipal Health Officer (MHO) of Tipo-Tipo and brother of Mayor Arcam, was among the first group of trainees in the Philippine Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (PIMAM) program in the now defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Attended medical school to serve his community, Dr. Nurkhan remains the MHO of Tipo-Tipo despite several job offers, including a post at the Ministry of Health-Bangsamoro ARMM. During Mayor Tong’s term, only two municipalities in Basilan have a doctor; one of these is Dr. Nurkhan.

His exposure to the nutrition situation in Tipo-Tipo, particularly rehabilitating a Severely Acute Malnourished (SAM) child, ignited his determination to enhance nutrition efforts. Although nutrition work was established, it primarily focused on service delivery, neglecting crucial building blocks.

In 2021, the stunting prevalence in Tipo-Tipo was at 32.1%. When it comes to healthcare accessibility, all key indicators remain low due to the geographical makeup of the municipality. The diverse ethnic population, presence of geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) barangays, sporadic armed encounters, and the proximity of large barangays to Lamitan City, where residents often prefer to access health services, contribute to the limited coverage. The complex nature of the problem of malnutrition, coupled with limited resources, means that finding a solution is not straightforward.

Deepening understanding of nutrition gaps through the MNGP

The MNGP aims to empower the Municipal Nutrition Committee (MNC) to tackle malnutrition effectively through comprehensive service delivery. Mayor Arcam identified key gaps contributing to high stunting prevalence, including unemployment, limited access to family planning, poor health-seeking behavior, and inadequate financial support. These issues are influenced by factors like early marriages, misconceptions about stunting, fragmented programs, and security concerns. Mayor Arcam advocates for a multi-sectoral approach to address these challenges.

Drawing on his accounting background (as a BS Accountancy graduate from Western Mindanao State University), Mayor Arcam envisions improved fiscal management, sustainable food supply, and enhanced quality of life for Tipo-tipo. He aims to achieve these goals by focusing on fiscal management for health and nutrition, access to basic services, and food security. Priority actions include activating the MNC, issuing relevant policies, formulating a comprehensive action plan, hiring additional nutrition-focused staff, targeting poverty reduction, engaging barangays, and masterlisting vulnerable populations. These actions aim to strengthen nutrition governance, enhance service delivery, and uplift the community’s well-being, particularly for vulnerable groups.

Leadership acts in a snapshot

Mayor Arcam spearheaded the expansion of the MNC in Tipo-Tipo, benefiting from strong legislative support due to his father’s role as vice mayor. Regular MNC meetings lead to the issuance of supportive policies, including the groundbreaking Municipal Ordinance No. 23-04, s. 2023, which serves as a model for addressing malnutrition in Basilan.

Recognizing the importance of nutrition, the Sanggunian significantly increased the nutrition budget from Php 1 million in 2022 to Php 10 million in 2023. This reflects their commitment to effective programs and interventions.

In August 2022, the expanded MNC core team formulated a three-year Comprehensive Nutrition Action Plan (CNAP), making Tipo-tipo the first LGU with an approved Local Nutrition Action Plan (LNAP). This achievement underscores Mayor Arcam’s dedication and strategic planning.

Under Mayor Arcam’s leadership, Barangay Nutrition Committees (BNCs) were organized in a significant number of barangays by the end of 2022, promoting community involvement and ownership of nutrition programs. The BNCs collaborate with the core team to address issues like teenage pregnancies, enhancing community support for comprehensive nutrition initiatives.

Deep Dive

Mayor Arcam’s understanding of nutrition issues, influenced by his brother’s expertise and his own experiences, was deepened through a firsthand Deep Dive experience in December 2022. Originally planned for remote areas, security concerns redirected the Deep Dive to Barangay Tipo-tipo Proper, uncovering the additional challenge of teenage pregnancies.

In this barangay, Mayor Arcam encountered a young couple struggling with multiple births and severe malnutrition, residing in challenging family circumstances. This encounter underscored the harsh realities faced by vulnerable constituents.

This experience prompted Mayor Arcam to reevaluate nutrition strategies, leading to the revitalization of the Sanyang Collaborative Action for Mobilization (CAM) initiative. Combining experiential insights with data analysis, Mayor Arcam refined Sanyang CAM to address specific community needs effectively.

Notably, there was a considerable reduction in stunting prevalence, from 28.18% in 2022 to 19.45% in 2023. Wasting prevalence decreased from 4.82% to 2.20% during the same period. These achievements highlight the effectiveness of the implemented strategies and the dedication of Mayor Arcam and his team in addressing the nutritional challenges faced by the municipality of Tipo-tipo.

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