After what happened at Maginhawa, it looks like the other shoe has dropped on community pantries. Around midnight on April 20, Maginhawa community pantry founder Ana Patricia “Patreng” Non announced through Facebook that the project will temporarily shut down due to red-tagging and security concerns.
“Hindi magandang balita. Bukas po pause po muna ang #MaginhawaCommunityPantry para sa safety po namin ng mga volunteers. Mabigat sa pakiramdam 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,” Non said in a Facebook post.
(Bad news. Tomorrow the #MaginhawaCommunityPantry will be put on hold for the safety of our volunteers. This weighs heavy on me because my intentions were good when I started the #CommunityPantry and for some days now, it has been able to serve many while much help has also been given.)
The news of the temporary closure came shortly after viral posts online alleged that police have been profiling and red-tagging organizers of these community pantries.
On the heels of that news, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Martin Diño has also announced that community pantry organizers must coordinate with their respective barangays or local government units (LGU) in order to operate. According to Diño, the reason for this is to ensure the enforcement of social distancing and other pandemic protocol, which Malacañang echoed.
This anti-people, bureaucratic response to the grassroots movement is telling of a systematic failure on the part of the government.
Specifically in providing for the needs of the people in the middle of a crisis.
Don’t lose focus
In a press conference held by Non earlier today, she explained that the origins of the community pantry were a response to the lack of action on the government’s end. She wanted to help fill that gap.
Non also cleared up some issues and allegations surrounding the movement—and by extension, herself.
She started by apologizing to those who lined up this morning and assured that operations will continue after these issues have been resolved. Non went on to say that community pantries are a unifying factor for the communities they belong to. People of opposing opinions, religions and political affiliations from different socioeconomic classes came together to pitch in. Nobody asked for recognition. Everyone just wanted to help.
“Malaya and walang pinipili ang community pantry,” she said. (The community pantry is free and is for everyone.)
The community pantry movement has given all a sense of unity, and Non hopes that the surrounding issues don’t overshadow the heart of the movement.
In her closing remarks, she renewed the call for solidarity and asked the media to focus on what’s really important: giving attention to people who need help.
While it’s heartening to see that she hasn’t lost focus on the mission of the community pantry, the threats against her and the movement cannot be ignored.
Assurances can only go so far
In response to the alleged red-tagging and targeting of Non by the Quezon City Police Department (QCPD), Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte has released a statement assuring the safety of Non and other individuals behind the community pantries.
While it’s a good sign that the local government is taking action against the alleged red-tagging, assurances can only go so far set against the backdrop of extrajudicial killings and the anti-activist culture the administration has cultivated.
During the press conference, Non expressed her trust in the mayor, but also explained that she cannot put her full confidence in the assurances of the QCPD.
She prefaced her experience with the police presence at the community pantry by saying that she attempted to build rapport with them, but their demeanor was “stiff.” Non said that the police were present for a number of days at the pantry and requested them to stop bringing their rifles, which might intimidate those in the vicinity. She told them that there was no threat present so the rifles were unnecessary before giving them items from the pantry when they left.
According to Non, the moment that caused the pantry’s pause and subsequent safety concerns came by way of a Facebook post on the QCPD’s official page claiming that the Maginhawa Community Pantry is communist propaganda organized by the communist party. She was not informed of this beforehand, even after they had asked for her contact details.
The QCPD’s response to Non’s volunteerism is absolutely terrifying, but not at all surprising.
‘Bayanihan’ as a symptom of a failed government
The pandemic and the rise of community pantries have ushered in a new era of “bayanihan.” Yes, bayanihan still means we’re helping each other out, but this time, it’s only because there are no other options.
Instead of simple things, like helping a neighbor move or holding community clean-up drives, the inaction of the government on issues like pandemic-born hunger has pushed us against the wall. This new era of bayanihan has come into fruition because of the major gaps the government has not addressed.
If we take a look at the Constitution’s preamble, it literally says the government’s purpose is to build a “just and humane society.” It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that all the citizens are taken care of and given their due. In this specific case, what the people need are food and safety.
This government has not given us what we are due.
If you really think about it, community pantries shouldn’t have to exist in the first place. Yet here we are, relying on the kindness of private citizens (again!) to make sure that we all survive. And even when we’re just trying to help, we still have to ask for permission.