, October 26, 2021

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Generosity is Infectious


  •   6 min reads
Generosity is Infectious

Photo: Jeff Canoy


Despite a government-imposed curfew, hundreds of residents lined up as early as 3 a.m. on April 20 along the stretch of Maginhawa Street in Teacher’s Village, Quezon City hoping to bring home vegetables and food items from the Maginhawa Community Pantry.

But before 6 a.m., they were told that the pantry would be suspending its operations. Many went home disappointed, clutching shopping bags as empty as their stomachs.

Still, a few decided to stay on. "Hindi pa kami umuuwi kasi nagbabakasakali pa kami na baka maawa sila sa 'min, baka bigyan kami pansaing, kasi wala na kami isasaing mamaya," Virginia Vinluan told ABS CBN.

 Photo: Philippine Star

The night before, 26-year old Ana Patricia Non, a business owner who set up the Maginhawa Community Pantry, announced she was temporarily halting operations because of police harassment.

‘Natatakot po akong maglakad mag-isa’

Patreng, as she is called by friends and family, said she feared for her safety and that of the pantry’s volunteers.

Earlier that day, she said three police officers had sought her out, and asked for her cellphone number, her affiliations, and other personal details. The visit coincided with postings on social media allegedly from the Facebook pages of the Quezon City Police Department (QCPD) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), an agency under the Office of the President, warning the public that the community pantries were communist initiatives.

"Gusto ko lang po talaga makatulong at sana po ay huwag n'yo masamain," she said.

Hindi magandang balita. Bukas po pause po muna ang #MaginhawaCommunityPantry para sa safety po namin ng mga volunteers. Malungkot po dahil hindi muna maipapamahagi ang goods na inihanda namin buong maghapon dahil po sa #RedTagging na nagaganap. Magbigat sa pakirandam ko kasi maganda po ang intentions ko noong binuo ko ang #CommunityPantry at ilang araw na din po na napakaraming pinagsisilbihan nito at ganun din po ang tulong na dumadating. Sigurado po maraming tao po ang pipila sa amin bukas pero kailangan po muna nila maghintay sa susunod na araw bago po ito maipamahagi. Lalo na po at nagkaproblema kanina ang ibang Community Pantry sa mga kapulisan…
Humihingi din po ako ng tulong kay mayor Joy Belmonte tungkol sa usapin na ito. Lalo na po ay hingi po ng tatlong pulis ang number ko at tinatanong po kung anong organisasyon ko. Natatakot po ako maglakad mag-isa papunta sa Community Pantry  ng alas singko ng umaga dahil po sa walang basehang paratang sa amin. Gusto ko lang po talaga makatulong at sana po ay huwag nyo masamain.
 From AP Non’s Facebook page

Earlier, netizens shared photos on social media alleging that police officers were also harassing and profiling organizers of similar community pantries in other parts of Metro Manila.

A photo taken in Pandacan, Manila allegedly shows policemen interviewing organizers, and asking for contact details, Facebook account names, and other personal information. This is seen as a violation of the Data Privacy Act, and has prompted the National Privacy Commission to issue a statement.

Photo: National Privacy Commission

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) denied it was profiling organizers, and even hailed the community pantries as outstanding expressions of private sector initiative and the Bayanihan spirt.

But in an interview over DZBB, Army  Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC, confirmed they were profiling organizers of the pantries, including Patreng Non. He claimed the community pantries were being used to raise funds for the communist movement, but offered no hard evidence.

From Igan Clavio’s Facebook page

Generosity is infectious

The community pantries began with a photo posted by Patreng on her Facebook page showing a bamboo pushcart filled with vegetables and other food items. Above it were two cardboard signs. One said, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.”  The other sign said, “Maginhawa Community Pantry.”

Her post went viral, and in just four days community pantries have sprouted all over Metro Manila and even in the provinces. They were organized by families, organizations, Churches, religious congregations, government agencies and even police stations. Some offered other items like condiments, books and other reading materials, face shields, condoms, sanitary products and, for pet owners, dog and cat food.

Photo: From AP Non’s Facebook page
Photo: Posted by Intramuros Administration
Photo: Eastern Police District
Photo: GMA News Instagram
Photo: Community Pantry PH

Patreng said the philosophy behind the pantry is anchored on trusting and respecting the dignity of the poor. She wrote in one post:

Ang daming inquiries and doubts tungkol sa honesty at ugali ng mga tao baka daw pakyawin ng isa o di talaga mga mahihirap ang kumuha. Valid naman ang concern (hehe salamat po).

Pero tingin ko po maganda kung mag-integrate tayo sa basic masses para makilala natin sila. Para matanggal natin sa isip natin na ganid sila o mapanglamang (focus tayo sa mga tunay na ganid at may utang sa mamamayan!

Eto po ang na-observe ko ngayong umaga:

Homeless na kumuha ng 2 orange nag-offer yung iba na kumuha pa sya. Sabi nya "eto lang naman ang kakainin ko" .

Yung street sweepers naman kumuha ng 2 repolyo na sapat na daw sa panggisa.

#TiwalaSaMasa

While grateful that her simple idea has caught on, she is quick to clarify that the problem of hunger, more widespread now because of the pandemic and the lockdown, needs a long-term solution.

“This community pantry is only a temporary solution for empty stomachs. Food security, services, those are different things and normal citizens do not have the budget to initiate those big projects,” she said.

A report in Bloomberg said of the P23 billion budget for cash aid allotted by the government for individuals displaced by the most recent lockdown, only P4 billion have been disbursed so far.

The delay has been officially attributed to the strict implementation of health protocols such as social distancing, but irate residents have complained that the distribution has been poorly organized, with health officials warning these could become “super-spreader events.”

Some local officials also complained that the list of beneficiaries provided by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) contained erroneous entries, including the names of the deceased and those working abroad.

Wrote Bloomberg, “Amid these delays, some Filipinos are queuing for free food from pantries set up by communities and individuals, replicating one put up by a female resident from Quezon City in the capital. These so-called ‘community pantries’ show what the public can do ‘when the government is absent,’ former Vice President Jejomar Binay said on Twitter.”

According to the Trade Secretary, the economy lost an estimated P180 billion during the two-week hard lockdown imposed by the government in Metro Manila and four other provinces to stop a surge in COVID-19 infections. Those who lost their jobs totalled1.5 million.

But unless government moves to quickly improve the health system, upgrade contact tracing and testing, and vaccinate a large portion of the population, experts see the country experiencing regular surges in infections, and this would require frequent hard restrictions on mobility and the operation of businesses.

For those severely affected, the community pantries are a lifeline.

Patreng refused to take credit for the sudden outpouring of help for the displaced.

She told Rappler, ”Normal sa mga tao na matulungin. “Kung buong community ang tutulong masu-sustain siya, hindi imposible.... Hangga’t may nangangailangan, hangga’t may nagbibigay rin.”


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