The first community pantry to hit social media radar in Cebu City is the one in Barangay Guadalupe, a partnership between the village’s Sangguniang Kabataan and youth group One Guadalupe. We heard of a number of independent talks ready to be hatched anytime soon.
But it’s in the National Capital Region, struck severely by the new surge of infections and placed under stricter lockdown, where roadside stalls have sprouted, inspired by businesswoman Ana Patricia Non’s Maginhawa Community Pantry at the Teachers Village, Quezon City. No small help there that its fame was tipped by social media presence, and a branding that was propped by an independent printing press that created a template for franchise using the Maginhhawa model and the now golden rule: “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan,” from the famous “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
On April 20, however, Non had to apologize to the hundreds of citizens for halting the pantry’s operations. Some police personnel asked for the volunteers’ identification and contact numbers. Reports also came that similar incidents happened in a number of other community pantries. Worse, around the same time, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Quezon City Police District posted on their Facebook pages graphics that linked the community pantry initiatives to the communist movement. For fear of their security, Non and other volunteers had to stop operation, leaving a queue of hundreds who were already around since as early as 3 a.m., with nothing to expect for the day.
NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. admitted they are looking into the background of pantry organizers. In contrast, National Police Chief Debold Sinas denied allegations that the police are profiling the organizers. In a television interview, Department of the Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Martin Diño said these pantries need a permit from the mayor or the barangay, a statement which he later retracted, saying organizers just have to coordinate with the barangay to ensure health protocols are observed.
With a government that has been battling this pandemic also persistently at the public relations front, these community pantry initiatives at once become tricky phenomena to deal with. It has the face of “franchise activism” written all over it, with Non saying earlier that the Maginhawa version was born out of desperation at how government had poorly handled the pandemic, leaving a multitude of citizens gasping for whatever trickle of aid that comes their way from government. Lumped by the concept of “community pantry” with a common slogan, these autonomous moves first and foremost share the same desperation. Strangely enough, they are driven by people whose resources do not even show a sharp contrast—for instance, farmers handing out a share of their harvest to those in need.
The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that in February this year, the unemployment rate increased to 8.8 percent or 4.2 million jobless Filipinos, indicating steady upticks since the early part of the year. It doesn’t help that public perception of government had been beset heavily by stories of billions of pesos in Philhealth funds strangely disappearing, excessive dolomite cosmetic dump in Covid times, officials going “pasaway” over health protocols, and whatnots. Utterly disgusting, no wonder these growing feats and fame of community pantries prove unsettling in no small measure. “Let a thousand pantries bloom,” as one social media shoutout goes.
When the first Food not Bombs initiative sprouted in the 1980s in the US, it sent authorities scampering for ways to stifle it. The program, meant to protest war and poverty, set up stalls handing out vegetables to poor citizens. There were 1,000 arrests for sharing free food and government had to craft just about any legislation it could think of to outlaw free food.
Citizens have already exhibited vigilance by their mere act of setting up these community pantries. We hope the community will have the same vigilance against any evil move to stifle these great acts of kindness.