‘Pantries won’t be closed, just keep protocols‘

President Rodrigo Duterte is not ordering the shutdown of community pantries amid COVID-19 pandemic, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Tuesday.

VEGGIE PANTRY. Residents get vegetables from the community pantry on University Valley Street, Barangay Old Balara in Quezon City to help residents cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Manny Palmero

Roque made the clarification after the Chief Executive on Monday night lashed out at people who donate food to others.

“People were swarming. So we are again forced to enforce a quarantine to limit people from going around and passing the COVID virus to a lot of people…I want to stress the point that there could have been a better way of doing things. There has to be some sense in what you’re doing,” Duterte said.

Roque said: “The President is not saying to stop community pantries. He was just worried that pantries can be superspreaders of the virus…He was just appealing to them to get in touch with local officials in ensuring that social distancing is (practiced) and other minimum public health standards are observed.”

Meanwhile, an opposition leader in the House of Representatives slammed Duterte’s latest statement asking the public to wait for government aid instead of going to community pantries. 

Such statement, Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas said, was “insensitive to the plight of poor families who have yet to receive support and aid from the government amid numerous lockdown extensions.” 

“President Duterte’s failed pandemic response is the reason why community pantries have sprouted in different parts of the country,” Brosas, nominee of Gabriela Women’s Party, said.

At this point, she said the government must face the fact that the poor were more afraid of hunger than getting infected by COVID-19. 

Deputy Minority leader Carlos Isagani Zarate shared Brosas’ view, saying “admonishing the already suffering millions of Filipinos to wait for more time for the much needed aid was not only callous but an attempt to deflect government responsibility in the present still worsening crisis.” 

Community pantries have sprouted across the country after the first one, set up on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City last month, drew people in need of food and caught the notice of millions on social media.

The initiative has sparked over 800 similar community pantries – although there were some unpublished such pantries in the north – and the Maginhawa hub has since been transformed into a station for donated goods to be distributed to other community pantries in Metro Manila due to the overflowing donations it has been receiving and its ever growing number of patrons.

Metro Manila and other neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal have been under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) protocol since April 12. It will last until May 14.

The MECQ protocol, which bans non-essential trips and partially shuts down non-essential businesses and services, has reduced mobility of people to prevent virus transmission but resulted in either job displacement or job losses.

A poll released by the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute last week also showed that six in 10 Filipino families had little to no food amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with 62 percent of Filipino families experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity.

The same DOST-FNRI poll also revealed that 71.8 percent of the respondents are forced to borrow money just to be able to buy food, while 66.3 percent asked for food from their relatives, neighbors and friends.

Zarate said Filipinos would not have been in this situation if the Duterte administration had not failed in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Truth to tell Filipinos would rather work than ask for aid or line up for food, but, as of February this year at least 4.2 million workers are jobless and the unemployment rate is at 8.8 percent while underemployment is at 18.2 percent and more companies are closing due to the lockdowns,” Zarate added.

Brosas also challenged Duterte to call for a special Congress session to pass 10K ayuda bills and wage subsidy bills.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the poor the hardest and exposing the gaping inequities in access to food and health care. So if President Duterte is really concerned about the well-being of the masses, then he should support the people’s call to fast-track the approval of our P10,000 ‘’Ayuda Bill” for poor and low-income families instead of making things worse for our country,” she said.

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