After red-tagging the community pantry phenomenon, the Philippine National Police ordered its station commanders to put up their own versions. The PNP said their pantries must employ pre-designated beneficiaries in the rollout of their Barangayanihan initiative. “Respective beneficiaries will take pictures of the activity and post in their respective FB accounts. These netizens can be planted beneficiary civilians so as to manifest community’s appreciation,” read the police project brief. #
A memorandum and attached project brief from Philippine National Police (PNP) Cagayan de Oro are instructing cops to employ pre-designated beneficiaries in the rollout of their Barangayanihan initiative, which is inspired by the Maginhawa Community Pantry.
Under the said project, police precincts will serve ‘breakfast lugaw’ to select constituents in respective barangays. They are required to cite the Maginhawa Community Pantry as inspiration and make it clear that the effort is a partnership between the precinct and barangay donors and stakeholders.
“Respective beneficiaries will take pictures of the activity and post in their respective FB accounts. These netizens can be planted beneficiary civilians so as to manifest community’s appreciation,” read the project brief.
Although the project brief is attached to the said PNP Regional Office 10 memo, it mentions implementation by almost all precincts in Manila Police District and “possibly the whole NCR and other regions” in the rollout phase from April 21 to 25. Moreover, the next phase from April 26 to May 2 instructs nationwide Barangayanihan.
During this phase, the police are likewise instructed to “ask or plant civilian beneficiaries to take pics/selfies and posting in respective [Facebooks] with appreciation captions and standard MANDATORY hashtags.”
The objectives of Barangayanihan, according to its project brief, include forging stronger ties with the grassroots through the “basic unit of society”, the barangay.
The police directive also explicitly states that “The more we manifest collaborations with the barangay citizenry, the more we gain grounds in the fight against insurgency”, confirming the suspicion of several critics that state forces are planning to use the community pantry against the progressive movement.
Hijacking community pantries?
The said memorandum listed among its references the PNP’s guidance and compliance under Executive Order 70, which institutionalized the whole-of-nation approach against insurgency and established the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Just last week, NTF-ELCAC executive director Allen Capuyan in a leaked Viber message encouraged the task force’s different clusters to partner with the public and private sectors to initiate community pantry-related activities.
Capuyan’s message read that the task force is encouraging its clusters, including the Peace, Law Enforcement and Development Support (PLEDS), the Poverty Reduction Livelihood and Empowerment Cluster (PRLEC), etc. to start their own community pantry activities.
The PNP memo to organize precinct-run community pantries seems to come from this directive from NTF-ELCAC. Former Bayan Muna party-list representative Teddy Casiño said that the task force’s latest approach follows the controversial red-tagging of community pantries by NTF-ELCAC officials Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy and Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr., which drew huge flak from the public.
“Ok sana kung gustong magtayo ng community pantry ng mga pulis. Pero naman, pati ba ito tataniman nila?” Casiño tweeted.
“Clearly, after failing to discredit and intimidate the community pantry movement, the NTF-ELCAC, police and military establishment are poised to hijack it due to their paranoia that it’s all a communist plot,” he said. “They simply can’t leave a good thing alone.”
In a statement, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said that the huge budget of the PNP should instead be rechannelled to cash aid for the poor. The Barangayanihan, it said, is a “publicity stunt” that hijacks pantries and attempts to conceal the government’s failure in addressing the pandemic.
“Desperadong hakbang ito gamit ang buwis ng mamamayan,” KMU leader Jerome Adonis said.”Ideretso nyo na ang pera sa mamamayan sa pamamagitan ng P100 daily wage subsidy at P10k ayuda.”
With reports from Ratziel San Juan
By L. S. Mendizabal
On the seventh day since the first community pantry on Maginhawa St., Quezon City was erected, one of its initiators, Ana Patricia Non, took a break but did not rest. The 26-year-old small entrepreneur, “Patreng” to many, gave a press conference via Facebook Live, explaining why she and her fellow organizers ceased operations temporarily: They did not feel safe after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict accused her of being a “communist,” a brand the Duterte administration has proclaimed to be synonymous with “criminal,” “terrorist,” “a menace to society.”
“People are grateful because the community pantry revived their spirits to help one another in times of crisis . . . But even that had to stop. It hurts that we were forced to close even for just a day. Think of how many families, how many meals the community pantry would have provided,” Patreng said in Filipino, her voice cracking, barely able to hold back tears. “We had to stop for the time being to ensure our safety and to clear the allegations.”
On the same day, Metro Manila Eastern Police District set up its own community pantry with rice, canned goods, face masks and face shields. Also stacked are copies of the Gideon Bible and the police journal magazine replete with red-tagging propaganda because, y’know, “Communism is bad.” Throughout the Duterte regime alone, PNP is notorious for tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the war against drugs and anti-terror campaign. From accessorizing dead bodies with pieces of cardboard that said, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan (I am a drug pusher, do not emulate)” to giving away food and bibles under cardboard signs stating a rather interesting iteration of the Maginhawa Community Pantry slogan,
“Magbigay nang naaayon sa kakayahan, dumampot ayon sa inyong pangangailangan (Give what you can, seize what you need)”—their altruism is of the violent kind.
Death, hunger, gloom and doom
Since the novel coronavirus claimed its first victim in the Philippines when the government failed to promptly close our borders, there’s been no mass testing or contact tracing. Hospitals are full. Frontliners are grossly underpaid, overworked and dying. COVID funds amounting to a trillion pesos have yet to be felt by 18 million beneficiaries still waiting for a second cash dole-out.
Unemployment is at an all-time record high. According to IBON Foundation, the total number of unemployed and underemployed soared to a staggering 12 million in February 2021. With the absence of food subsidy and the disruption of food systems, the poor are the hardest hit by draconian lockdowns, or this administration’s single palpable response to the pandemic. Minimum wage earners must go out to work or find work every day, risking COVID exposure. Staying home is a luxury the poor simply can’t afford. To them, dying from hunger is a more immediate concern than dying from the virus.
Academics of the Philippine Sociological Society in a study on the community pantry initiative claim that Filipinos have also been experiencing feelings of “gloom and doom.” WHO says that isolation, bereavement, fear and loss of income during the pandemic have been detrimental to individual mental health. Constant news of human rights violations may cause gloom and doom as well, for how can you sleep soundly at night knowing a 12-year-old boy just died after barangay tanods chased him when he was “caught playing outside?”
A social phenomenon bred by state abandonment
On April 14, Patreng and her little bamboo trolley of free vegetables with a signboard bearing the words, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan (Give what you can, take what you need),” first stood on a street corner in the city with the most COVID cases and deaths in the country. Small vendors and tricycle drivers nearby have since helped Patreng repack and distribute goods as well as facilitate the daily queue of neighbors they’ve invited themselves. And just like that, a movement was born.
Within three days, PSS identified 44 community pantries nationwide with majority in NCR. As of this writing, there are 500 from as far up north as Cagayan all the way south to “DDS Country,” Davao City. PSS in its initial analysis of the community pantry calls it an “emergent agency”—an independent initiative taken by stakeholders to effect changes on their situation. Emergent collective behaviors rise when preexisting structures fail to meet people’s demands. Notably, a good chunk of the community pantries that swiftly followed Maginhawa’s example are of organized masses from marginalized sectors who initiated community kitchens and collective gardening since the first enhanced community quarantine. PSS notes that these earlier emergent agencies didn’t quite capture the people’s imagination the way community pantries have.
Although they’re not the cure to end food insecurity, the viral spread of community pantries is but a symptom of the true state of the nation: Like Patreng, Filipinos are “tired of complaining and fed up with government inaction.”
Half a piece of ginger, cups of taho and a tale of two oranges
Community pantries have been practiced in the US and other parts of the world. When COVID hit Thailand, locals installed cupboards filled with food, medicines and other necessities in public spaces in Bangkok to help one another. Called “happiness-sharing pantries,” they spread all over the country, reaching a total of 1 400 by the end of 2020. As lockdown restrictions were lifted in Thailand and stores reopened, the pantries were later abandoned.
In the Philippines, community pantries show no signs of slowing down as Duterte stays in power, hoarding public funds for his election war chest. (The original Maginhawa Community Pantry announced Monday night it will cease to be a distribution center starting today, Tuesday, April 27. It will instead be a donation center from which nearby community pantries shall be replesnished.—Ed. ) A viral element of the phenomenon is its slogan which people have adopted and translated into many different languages and dialects, my favorite being LGBTQ+ organization Bahaghari’s “Gumib luv offering ayern sa kerichinabels, gumeching vatai sa needine lustre.” More than just a catchphrase, Filipinos from all walks of life have been unified by the idea and practice of a mutual aid grounded on giving what they can and taking only what they need.
In contrast to donation drives where the same prepacked goods are given to households without taking into account household size, you have the freedom to get what your family specifically needs from a community pantry regardless of what you donate. How much one takes / gives is a non-issue. In a Bulatlat article, University of the Philippines Professor Sarah Raymundo says that community pantries defy the capitalist market because they highlight products’ utility (use value) over their monetary worth (exchange value).
This encourages people to prioritize the needs of others over their own. For instance, a resident in a resettlement area in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan only needed a small slice of ginger, so she broke one into two pieces “para makakuha rin ang iba (so others may have as well).” In Kawit, Cavite, a taho vendor gave out free cups of his own product by a small roadside table. Inspiring passersby, they bought more cups of taho for his little pantry. Patreng also shared in the press conference how an old beggar picked up two oranges. When he was told to get more, he said two were enough to get him by for the day.
The community pantry is a utopian space where the destitute and benevolent converge, often one and the same. More than bayanihan and volunteerism, it advocates collectivism. This boggles the minds of the rich because they only understand an individualist way of life, not unlike that of a barangay captain in Los Baños, Laguna who threw a fit, accusing organizers of profiting off their pantry. His angry constituents later exposed him on social media for using personal connections to get vaccinated ahead of frontliners.
“Communist Pantry,” “just bayanihan” and other anti-people takes
Once the community pantry became a phenomenon, anyone who knows this administration damn well would’ve seen red-tagging from a mile away. Historically, emergent agencies or relief efforts that expose government incompetence are met with hostility. Last year alone, cops destroyed Sitio San Roque’s community kitchen and apprehended youth volunteers distributing food packs to impoverished communities in QC, Malate, Marikina, Bulacan, etc. Armed men killed activist Jory Porquia while conducting relief operations in Iloilo City.
According to UP Prof. Danilo Arao in an online forum on journalism ethics and community pantries, red-baiting is the “highest form of fake news” because it endangers lives. It is the state’s go-to tactic in discrediting and demonizing personalities and organizations so that hurting them is justified. Another objective of red-tagging, Arao explained, is to challenge its target/s to denounce Communist links. Sounds familiar? Mainstream media, GMA Network being the biggest offender of late, has become nothing more than a mouthpiece of a regime that persecutes people like Patreng whose only fault is facilitating change.
Neoliberalism has so deprived us of basic social services and turned everything into a capitalist commodity that Filipinos sharing goods among themselves has become quite the spectacle. That said, what really frightens the state is not its “phenomenal” or “bayanihan” aspect, or Patreng’s political affiliations. The community pantry is not just a place of sharing and caring but sharing and caring between the middle and lower social classes with similar traumas caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by state inutility and terrorism. Some might’ve lost jobs, others loved ones, most of them hope. Now, they find solace and strength in being able to not only take but give, whether it’s 50 kilos of fish from small fisherfolk alliance PAMALAKAYA; sacks of sweet potatoes from a farmer in Paniqui, Tarlac; or three packs of noodles from the kind balut vendor at Maginhawa. The community pantry feeds people for a day but empowers them for much longer as they continue to struggle in a society that takes jobs, loved ones and children’s lives, and thrives on widespread hunger, doom and gloom.
Community pantries as a collective refusal to not starve are a protest whether you like it or not. And it’s disturbing how Malacañang, NTF-ELCAC, some journalists and centrist liberals all sound the same: “It’s just bayanihan and should be free of any politics.” Keep calm and share gulay, they say. A bishop went as far as declaring that these pantries with their signboards will “forever erase the shame” of cardboard justice in the drug war. Great. When they’re not red-baiting whole movements, they’re whitewashing or romanticizing them. Why do we celebrate bayanihan yet balk at the idea of hopeful, empowered masses who feed one another and understand why they starve in the first place?
“Everything is political,” says PAMALAKAYA – Southern Tagalog Spokesperson Ronnel Arambulo. “Widespread hunger is a result of government inadequacy in responding to the health crisis. The national situation should not be seen as a separate picture from community pantries.”
Meanwhile, mayors have expressed support and assured organizers of their safety. A resignation was tendered. Gag orders were issued. These are little victories, indeed, but we must not be complacent. Patreng is right: She may be safe for now but entire communities are not. Believing that community pantries are red-tagged because some have given political meaning to them is only blaming the victim. It says outright, “They deserve to be red-tagged for not submitting to the status quo.” This fascist thinking is harmful to the people.
From the masses, to the masses
An organizer posted on FB about buying vegetables from a peasant in Nueva Ecija. Upon knowing they were for a community pantry, she said, “Napanood ko sa TV kanina. Nagugutom ang tao, pinapasara pa nila! Komunista raw. E ano naman? Namimigay lang naman! (I learned about it on TV. People are starving yet the government wants to close them! They call them communists. What about it? They’re only giving out food!)” After donating 200 pesos, she added, “Maganda ‘yang ginagawa ninyo. Pipila kami mamaya pero hindi na gulay ‘yung kukunin namin. Bigas sana (What you’re doing is noble. We’re going to line up at the pantry later but we won’t be getting vegetables. I hope there’s rice).”
It isn’t hard for the poor to understand and embrace the community pantry as their own because they struggle the most and have been quite vocal about their grievances. Instead of calling them “komunista,” “reklamador” or “pasaway,” Patreng listened. If the masses are not afraid to voice out their demands and work towards social change, why should we be? Let’s stop telling them what to do and as them instead what must be done. Let communities lead the way for community pantries. #
Altermidya (2021, April 23). To ask or not to ask: Lessons on red-tagging & community pantry [Video]. Facebook. https://fb.watch/56UyZvIOhF/
Bolledo, J. (2021). “12-year-old boy chased by Pasay tanods loses consciousness, dies”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/minor-chased-by-pasay-tanods-loses-consciousness-dies-april-2021
Chatinakrob. T. (2020). “Happiness-sharing Pantries: an effective weapon to ease hunger for the needy during the pandemic in Thailand”. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/seac/2020/09/16/happiness-sharing-pantries/
Dionisio, J. et al (2021). “Contagion of Mutual Aid in the Philippines: An Initial Analysis of the Viral Community Pantry Initiative as Emergent Agency in Times of Covid-19”. Retrieved from https://philippinesociology.com/contagion-of-mutual-aid-in-the-philippines/
IBON Foundation (2021). “Joblessness worsens in February and will get worse with ECQ”. Retrieved from https://www.ibon.org/joblessness-worsens-in-february-and-will-get-worse-with-ecq-ibon/
Raymundo, S. (2021). “Community Pantry Ph: Hugpungan ng ginhawa at pag-iral ng use value”. Bulatlat. Retrieved from https://www.bulatlat.com/2021/04/22/community-pantry-ph-hugpungan-ng-ginhawa-at-pag-iral-ng-use-value/
A University of the Philippines (UP) department slammed a university executive for his red-tagging posts against the community pantries.
The Department of English and Comparative Literature (DECL) in a statement said recent remarks by UP executive vice president Teodoro Herbosa regarding the community pantries are “dangerous and malignant.”
On its official Facebook page, the DECL condemned Herbosa’s remarks as a baseless insinuation that UP alumna Ana Patricia Non co-started the Maginhawa community pantry because she is a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Herbosa also referred to Non as “Ka Patreng.”
“This is clearly a form of red-tagging, a deplorable practice that our own (UP Diliman) Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo asked the University community to denounce in no uncertain terms,” the DECL said.
The department added Herbosa’s other remarks against the community pantry phenomenon such as “Fake kindness is hate disguised as good,” and “Death by ‘Community Pantry’. I told you so!” are not reflective of the public service thrust of UP.
The last remark by Hermosa was in reference to the death of Orlando dela Cruz who collapsed while queuing for actor Angel Locsin’s community pantry in Quezon City on Friday, April 23.
The DECL said Herbosa must be held accountable for his dangerous allegations as one of UP’s highest officials.
“We would be quick to call out such ludicrous illogical leaps in any of our classes; we cannot let this pass in an even more crucial and potentially life-threatening context,” the DECL said.
“As a department, we hold steadfast to the values of the humanities. We teach our students tolerance and understanding, critical thinking and vigilance. We reiterate that ACTIVISM IS NOT TERRORISM,” it added.
The department said that Herbosa’s statement endanger Non and all other UP students, faculty, staff and alumni who participate and contribute to the nearly 400 community pantries nationwide.
“Therefore, we strongly denounce the statements made by EVP Teodoro Herbosa and urge the UP administration to take action,” the DECL said.
Herbosa earlier gained public attention in October 2020 when he described the widespread condemnation of infant River Nasino’s death as “cadaver politics”.
Former UP Faculty Regent Judy Taguiwalo described Herbosa, a medical doctor, as a zealous supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Herbosa’s Twitter (@Teddybird) account had since been set to private following a whirlwind of condemnations following his controversial remarks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
A community pantry had been set up a stone’s throw away from Malacañang Palace and is located at no less than President Rodrigo Duterte’s alma mater.
On its third day of operations today, the Mendiola community pantry at San Beda University (SBU) has been handing out food and other items to indigents living in the nearby areas of Sampaloc and Quiapo districts of Manila.
Initiated by alumni of SBU’s College of Arts and Sciences student publication The Bedan, the activity is one of nearly four hundred similar humanitarian operations inspired by the phenomenal Maginhawa community pantry of Quezon City.
Mendiola community pantry initiator and former The Bedan chief editor Ares Gutierrez said their effort is both a version of the Magihawa Street phenomenon and an extension of a Bedan tradition.
“From grade school, we were encouraged by the school to automatically bring relief items to be distributed to affected residents of nearby communities after each strong typhoon. We also witnessed the Benedictine monks organizing soup kitchens whenever surrounding areas were flooded,” Gutierrez explained.
He added that those who have lost their livelihood are the main beneficiaries of the pantry a hundred meters away from the nearest Malacañan gate and located inside the closed-off and well-guarded palace complex.
“The vendors, parking attendants, and others who relied on the once busy Mendiola street are the first ones helped by the pantry, although people from as far away as Quiapo’s Central Market have come,” Gutierrez said.
The community pantry phenomenon had been serving indigents reeling from loss of livelihood due to successive coronavirus pandemic lockdowns imposed by the Duterte government.
It has spread like wildfire throughout the country from Cagayan Province to Zamboanga City since it was started by a few individuals last April 14.
It has even inspired a similar operation in Dili, Timor Leste.
Government critics said the phenomenon is proof of the failure of the Duterte administration to look after the poor when it imposes lockdowns due to the pandemic.
San Beda University is the last of four schools that Duterte attended.
Donations from near and far
Student publication alumni were the first ones to volunteer and donate but several other Bedans from near and far sent donations as they learned of the Mendiola pantry, Gutierrez revealed.
Rice from Cagayan Province and monies to buy food items from the United States were donated, he said.
Even non-Bedans donated, such as Quiapo businessperson Jaime Wong who happened to pass by while jogging along Mendiola Street.
“He saw an ambulant vegetable vendor and purchased all his upo (bottle gourd) to donate to the pantry,” Gutierrez’s fellow The Bedan alumnus Ramon Jose said.
Jose said Bedan businesspersons have also donated their products such as bread and fruits.
“After we have given everything away on our first day last Wednesday, donations kept coming that replenished the pantry,” he said.
Jose said that stay-in SBU employees such as utility personnel, security guards and workers of the ongoing construction projects in the campus helped in the distribution.
Even the community pantry by Duterte’s fellow Bedans were not spared from unnecessary police presence and online trolls, however.
Officers with handguns from the nearby Mendiola Bridge detachment of the Manila Police District arrived as the beneficiaries’ queue formed.
The police said they wanted to assist in ensuring that proper physical distancing is observed, a task already implemented by SBU guards.
An automatic rubbing alcohol dispenser is also in place and the area is disinfected before distribution starts.
The police repeatedly asked for the names of the organizers and also deployed intelligence officers in plainclothes during the event.
Photos of the Mendiola community pantry posted online were also attacked by trolls.
Gutierrez said it had been a successful three-day operation of the Mendiola community pantry and he hopes other SBU alumni groups would pick it up and continue.
He said he already formed a Facebook page where fellow Bedans express desire to donate more items.
Gutierres said he named the Facebook page Conscientia Bedista in reference to one of the school’s three Latin mottos “Scienta” (knowledge). The others are “Fides” (faith) and “Virtus” (virtue).
Conscientia is also the Latin word for conscience.
“A clarion call has been sounded and, as our school hymn says, Bedans always answer it,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
Ni Joi Barrios
Ang alamat ng sampalok
ay kuwentong tungkol sa pagdaramot.
May matandang babaeng ayaw
magbigay ng balat ng kahoy na panggamot
sa nangangailangang kapitbahay,
kung kaya, siya raw ay isinumpa.
At nang bumagyo, ang ilog ay umapaw
at tinangay ng baha ang puno,
na kung saan-saan tumubo.
Ang kuwento ng sampalok ay alamat
ng puno na naging panlahat.
Sa nayon, at kahit minsan sa kalunsuran
Hangga’t maaari ay hindi tayo bumibili
ng maliliit ang dahon na ipalulutang sa sinigang.
Hinihingi natin ito sa kapitbahay
tulad ng kayraming sagana ng iba:
aratiles, sineguelas, at makopa, na bihira sa pamilihan
dahil nakasanayan na ang pagbibigay
at ang pagtanggap ng biyaya.
Ganito rin ang tulungan sa ating mga pamayanan.
“Magbigay ayon sa makakayanan,
Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.”
Ang sampalok na maasim
nabibigyan din ng alat at tamis.
Ang nagmamasama sa mabuting gawa,
Tiyak na may budhing anong itim, anong lupit.
—Ika-20 ng Abril 2021