Even the Church has been taken by the new rage of setting up community pantries.
On Tuesday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the policymaking body of the Church, encouraged parishes to put up their respective “community pantries” to help families who were displaced or lost their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“[It is] a very good way of spreading generosity and bayanihan among us,” Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, said over Radio Veritas on Tuesday.
He urged priests, parishes and basic ecclesial communities to join hands in support of the initiative, which was implemented by various groups, including the Maginhawa Community
Pantry project and Defend Jobs Philippines in Metro Manila.
The street pantries have also made their way to other provinces.
Community pantries allow people to donate to those in need, who in turn can choose what items, such as food and other essential goods, to take home.
But for lack of proper guidelines or limitations as people are given a free hand on the donations, some individuals or groups of individuals are taking advantage of the generosity by grabbing almost all items laid down on the tables in utter disregard of others who are also in need.
An example of such behavior that happened in Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig City went viral on Twitter where a group of four women took all the food from a community pantry.
One of the women was shown taking two trays of eggs.
When reminded to get only what they need, they reasoned out that they would give the excess items to their neighbors.
In the Caloocan diocese, a pantry of basic goods was opened at the San Roque Cathedral on Sunday as Bishop Pablo Virgilio David asked other parishes to do the same.
Caritas Philippines, the Church’s social action arm, said the spread of street pantries showed that kindness and compassion never stop even “at a time when poverty is most visible.”
“[It] is one of the most Christian responses at a time when self-preservation and addiction to power are very eminent, Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, Caritas’ national director, said.
“With the pandemic, it is expected that the number has increased exponentially. Thus, the need for a concerted localized effort to respond to the problem,” he added.
In April 2020, the church agency also set up a similar project known as “Caritas Kindness Stations” in different dioceses.
According to Fr. Tony Labiao, Caritas’ executive secretary, the initiative aimed to advocate a community-based replicable localized response that empowers community members to “take what you need, spare some for others and give what you can.”
Until today, the Caritas Kindness Station continues to exist in more than 15 provinces, which is also being tied up with the diocesan programs on food security.
“We are able to connect the Caritas Kindness Stations with our parish social action center-based vegetable gardens, which in turn promoted household-based food security initiatives,” Labiao said.
Bagaforo said initiatives like the community pantries and kindness stations are manifestations of “what we can do to augment the resources of the government to help the most in need families affected by the pandemic.”
“As a people, we are powerful. Hence, we continue to call on all individuals, families and communities to establish these kindness stations or whatever you want to call it,” he added.
“The important thing is, as a Christian nation, we collectively look and reach out for our neighbors. At Caritas Philippines, we call it ‘Alay Kapwa,’” the prelate said.
However, community pantries have not been spared from political attacks by the country’s security sectors, alleging that the initiatives by ordinary Filipinos to help combat apparent hunger during the pandemic are communist-inspired.
On Tuesday, senators crossed party lines to denounce the apparent red-tagging of community-pantry organizers
To voice their disgust over the alleged red-tagging of community pantry organizers, senators advised the security sectors to “leave them alone.”
They issued separate statements to deplore reports of alleged harassment by the police and military of Ana Patricia Non, who initiated the Maginhawa community pantry.
In a social media post, Non said she is temporarily stopping its operations after law enforcers sought her personal information such as contact number and memberships in organization.
Similar incidents were raised by community pantry organizers from other areas as law enforcers demanded that they reveal their personal information and affiliation.
“[The] government is having difficulty in distributing help, why make it more difficult for others to help? I don’t believe this!” Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd said in a text message.
Reacting on the same issue, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said, “The role of government is to remind people of health protocols, be on the sidelines ready to help to maintain order, in case needed, and leave the community pantries alone.”
Sen. Mary Grace Poe said, “Let’s not taint the initiatives to help stem hunger with suspicions of communist links. It puts their lives in peril, which is not the way to treat our people doing good for their countrymen.”
“Law enforcers must, at all times, fulfill their duties of protecting the citizens, not intimidate them. Tumutulong na nga sila, tinatakot pa (They were trying to help [the hungry], and yet in the end they were being threatened,” Poe added.
In a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Ana Theresia Hontiveros, Leila de Lima and Francis Pangilinan urged law enforcers to probe the alleged profiling and Red-tagging of community pantries’ organizers nationwide
Their colleagues from the majority group — Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senators Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, and Poe — shared their sentiment.
“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. Hunger is the problem, which these relief efforts directly address,” they added.
“These community pantries have offered a venue for showing the true bayanihan spirit amid the hunger and poverty in this time of the pandemic. It is deplorable to paint this initiative with suspicions of communist links,” the senators said.
They supported the call of Non’s family for a dialogue between the organizers of the community pantries and government authorities on this bayanihan initiative.
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.
The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) also on Tuesday clarified that there was no need to secure permits to set up community pantries.
ARTA Director General Jeremiah Belgica visited on Tuesday afternoon the Maginhawa community pantry in Quezon City to clarify with and assure the volunteers that permit is unnecessary in holding such activity.
Belgica’s statement contradicts Interior Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs Martin Dino’s earlier claim that community pantry organizers are required to secure permits from local authorities.
“We at ARTA want to ensure that bureaucracy is not getting in the way of public service. Public service is not only from the government. It is a shared responsibility that is why this kind of effort is good. We need to make sure that this will be implemented efficiently,” Belgica said.
“We should make this a community effort with the support of the barangay (village). During this time of pandemic, we should help one another. If we can provide a bigger area to avoid being politicized,” he added.
Belgica pointed out that community pantries should not be politicized.
“This really puts to action Christ’s teaching, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself,’” he said.
The community pantries should be left alone as long they do not commit anything illegal, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
“Suffice it to say that a person voluntarily doing an act of kindness and compassion toward his neighbor should be left alone. It is not proper for law enforcement agents to interrogate him unless there is reason to believe that he is violating any law, ordinance or rule,” he said.
WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL, DEMPSEY REYES, JOMAR CANLAS, ANNA LEAH E. GONZALES, ARLIE O. CALALO, CHRISTIAN CROW MAGHANOY AND CURRIE CATOR