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)