‘Leave community pantries be’ – Manila Standard

Malacañang said Tuesday community pantries were laudable and “should be left alone” even as public and government personalities came together to condemn officials who branded the gatherings for aid as led by communist groups, while red-tagging their organizers.

STALLED. In this photo compilation, the trademark bamboo stall and pushcarts that held the food and supplies offered by the Maginhawa Community Pantry for free lay bare on Tuesday as its organizers called it off for a day, scared of the threat of being red-tagged by police and government officials. It cost some families who lined up in previous days their meal for the day, even as other volunteers stood by to guard the non-perishable goods they were set to distribute. Elsewhere, the bayanihan spirit sparked by the Maginhawa pantry lived on, as residents at Barangay Bagbag 2 queued properly to get from the food stall launched by a family in Rosario, Cavite. Manny Palmero and JR Josue

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte welcomes the emergence of community pantries in the country to help the poor cope with the rising cost of commodities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Roque also said these initiatives should be left alone, except for an issue of minimum health standards and social distancing with the present threat of the COVID-19 disease.

However, in a social media post, the organizer of the pioneering Maginhawa Community Pantry, Ana Patricia Non, announced she temporarily stopped its operations yesterday after three policemen sought her personal information such as her contact number and her membership in organizations.

Non said she feared for her life but promised to resume the aid effort in Quezon City today after city officials and local police vowed that she and volunteers for the pantry would be protected.

“I’m scared to walk by myself to the community pantry at 5 a.m. because of baseless accusations against us. I really just want to help, please don’t take it the wrong way,” she said in Filipino on her

Facebook page. “It’s sad that we can’t distribute goods we prepared all day due to red tagging.” (See related story on Non – Editors)

Meanwhile, eight senators on Tuesday condemned an anti-communist task force for red-tagging organizers of community pantries that seek to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the senators – Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Franklin Drilon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Ralph Recto—denounced the social media posts of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“The profiling of organizers must stop. It puts people’s lives in danger, knowing how notorious some police, military officers, and personnel are in red-tagging progressives and now civic-minded citizens who only want to do good for their fellow men and women,” they said.

The senators said: “Hunger is the problem and these relief efforts by private citizens should be encouraged.”

“The harassment and intimidation of those involved in these relief efforts exacerbate the hunger and hardships of our citizens. We condemn these acts,” they said.

On Monday, community pantry organizers from other sites reported similar incidents in which law enforcers demanded they reveal their personal information and affiliations.

Organizers said they were inspired by the example set by the Maginhawa community pantry.

“You don’t have to be rich to help others,” Bing Hernando, co-organizer of Elisco Community Pantry in Pateros, said in an interview with ANC.

“That’s the essence of the community pantry, there’s not a lot of bureaucratic process. Anyone can line up regardless of your background. Whoever you are, as long as you have a need, the community pantry is there to get you what you need,” said Elijah San Fernando, also an organizer of Matiyaga Community Pantry.

In Barangay Mamatid, Cabuyao City, Laguna, a resident also put up a community pantry, giving assorted vegetables, canned goods, and instant noodles to neighbors.

“We want to help, that’s all,” the organizer said.

In their statement, the senators said community pantries offered a venue for showing the true bayanihan spirit amid the hunger and poverty during a pandemic.

“It is deplorable to paint this initiative with suspicions of communist links,” the senators said.

The senators supported the call of Non’s family for a dialogue between the organizers of the community pantries and government authorities.

At the same time, the senators stood by all the organizers of community pantries nationwide and encouraged them to continue their efforts that demonstrate active citizenship and participation.

“We see you. We all know this is a community effort. We celebrate your energies, and we stand with you all. We will always protect and uphold our fundamental rights, especially those toward a functioning and participative democracy,” they said

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said initiatives to help the public should be kept private, with minimum or no government involvement.

“The role of the government is to remind people of health protocols, be on the sidelines ready to help maintain order, in case needed, and leave the community pantries alone,” he said.

Gatchalian appealed to local and other government officials to spare the now growing number of community pantries from being tainted by politics and said that this kind of initiative should encourage more participants from the private sector.

Senator Joel Villanueva said community pantries should draw official support, not government suspicion.

Former vice president Jejomar Binay on Tuesday criticized the government for red-tagging community pantries.

“Is the government afraid of free vegetables? Is the government so threatened by the idea of people sharing what they have with the poorand hungry that it is now harassing and red-tagging community pantries?” Binay said in a statement.

“Sharing what we have with others is a Filipino trait. It is a Christian virtue. You cannot suppress what is innately Filipino and Christian,” he said. “Unless being a Christian is now considered a subversive act, government should stop harassing and red-tagging community pantries.”

However, Roque said: “I think the President has spoken through my office. The Department of the Interior and Local Government has spoken and unless their concern is about health protocols not being observed, they should leave these community pantries alone.”

“The emergence of community pantries is laudable. It exemplifies the Filipino bayanihan spirit during this challenging time of COVID-19,” he said.

‘As we have said in numerous occasions, we cannot defeat the COVID-19 pandemic alone. We need the support and cooperation of everyone,” he added.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Tuesday he has not ordered the Philippine National Police to look into community pantries after Non said she was questioned by local authorities.

The Quezon City Police District (QCPD) and the NTF-ELCAC have also shared social media posts accusing community pantries of propaganda.

“As long as the intention is good and without political color, it should be encouraged and supported. Since this is a purely voluntary and private initiative, we should not interfere except to ensure that minimum health standards are complied with,” Año said in a statement.

DILG Undersecretary Martin Dino, however, said community pantries must apply for a permit from local authorities to ensure that health standards are maintained.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said she has asked the QCPD to investigate Non’s questioning by police officers and to submit a report on the incident.

“I would like to personally assure Ms. Ana Patricia Non and other like-minded individuals that the local government of Quezon City fully supports community pantries,” she said.

“Indeed, these initiatives highlight the bayanihan spirit inherent in our QCitizens. The city government will therefore ensure that the organizers and beneficiaries of community pantries remain safe and unimpeded,” she added.

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso and Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto said their respective cities are not requiring permits for community pantries.

Community pantry organizers deserve to be thanked for their generosity during the pandemic, Domagoso told reporters in a text message.

Sotto, for his part, said: “We commend the individuals who are helping as they can afford.”

“Government has limited resources, so any effort to help others is very welcome,” he added.

Sotto said there is no such thing as a “Permit to Help”.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said it was improper for police to interrogate any citizen who is merely extending an act of kindness and compassion to his or her neighbors.

Guevarra said organizers of the community pantries do have any legal obligation to fill out any forms because what they are doing cannot be considered illegal.

Earlier, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers appealed that those setting up community pantries should “be allowed to freely go on with their activities” since there is no law or any administrative regulation that prohibits them from doing so.

The NUPL urged lawyers and law students “to take turns in helping protect community pantries from police harassment.”

Philippine National Police chief Police Gen. Debold Sinas has denied allegations that they subjected the organizers to profiling, saying they have no intention to interfere in the activities of the community pantries.

QCPD director Brig. Gen. Antonio Yarra also disavowed any red-tagging of community pantries.

He said a Facebook post was the work of a group called Peace Philippines, “a youth organization [whose] legitimacy is now being verified.”

In other developments:

* The Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives on Tuesday condemned the continuing harassment, profiling and red tagging of community pantries. “Why are you terrorizing those showing solidarity and concern for our poor people? Is it a crime to be hungry because of government neglect? Is feeding the hungry a violation of the law?” said one of the bloc’s members, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.

* Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the police and local government officials and their supporters to stop targeting organizers of community pantries or food banks that are being put up by ordinary

Filipinos across the Philippines. “These pantries, where everyone is enjoined to ‘give what you can, get only what you need,’ have been an incredible demonstration of compassion by Filipinos at a time when, because of COVID and the Duterte administration’s perceived inadequate response to the pandemic, many poor families are suffering from lack of food and household resources,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch.

* The Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday raised concern over red-tagging of the Maginhawa community pantry. “The community pantry of essential goods, which first emerged in Maginhawa Street, Quezon City with the purpose of aiding the community and fostering a shared mutual concern for one another, is a great initiative at a time when Filipinos need it the most,” spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

“It is thus concerning that this initiative, as well as the other community pantries that have followed, are under the threat of profiling and surveillance by local law enforcement authorities and are subject to red-tagging across various accounts in social media.”

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