The Palace and lawmakers on Monday lauded the explosion of community pantries across villages and neighborhoods in the country, describing them as “bayanihan in action.”
This developed as Malacañang asked the public for patience over complications in the government’s distribution of cash to help low-income earners cope with tightened COVID-19 restrictions.
The Maginhawa Community Pantry initiated by Ana Patricia Non in Quezon City has inspired many neighborhoods all over the country to organize their own community pantries.
Made of makeshift shelves placed along streets, these pantries are not just stocked with food and other necessities from big-hearted souls and cause-oriented groups -- with anyone free to get or put back whatever amount they needed -- but now also offer items and services for people and pets alike.
The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has put up its own version, the “Community Paw-ntry” at the PAWS headquarters along Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City, whether to provide or get free food and supplies for animals.
PAWS also encouraged the public to do similar initiatives in their area to help those affected by the pandemic.
The Animal Kingdom Foundation also launched its “BARKyanihan Project” with “pet ayuda stations” in the cities of Pasay, Valenzuela, and Mandaluyong in Metro Manila, Sta. Rosa and Binan in Laguna, and Tarlac City, offering treats for dogs and cats alike.
Meanwhile, Malacañang told critics Monday to stop “politicking,” as it rejected criticism that government incompetence spawned the community pantries across the country, where private citizens mobilized to help others weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said authorities had distributed P4 billion out of the P22.9 billion budget for aid distribution.
But unlike pre-pandemic aid distributions, beneficiaries now have to observe physical distancing and cannot flock to a venue all at once to get the assistance, he said in a press briefing.
Roque said: “We ask for patience because there really is a delay. But in the time of a pandemic, we cannot avoid being careful because we may be able to distribute the aid, but the public could also get COVID-19.”
Each beneficiary is entitled to P1,000 aid in cash or in kind. Up to P4,000 may be availed of by a family, whether the family has less than four or more than four members.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said these were “born out of desperation” and a “selfless” act of people, who “unwitting they may be, are telling government to do better.”
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday approved a one-time assistance of P20,000 for Employee’s Compensation pensioners to help them cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Employees’ Compensation (EC) program aims to assist workers who suffer work-connected sickness or injury resulting in disability or death, according to the Social Security System website.
Duterte authorized the EC Commission to grant a “one-time financial assistance” of P20,000 to pensioners for permanent partial disability, permanent total disability and survivorship, in the private and public sectors.”
This will benefit around 31,000 pensioners of the SSS and the Government Service Insurance System, without affecting their stability and with no need of additional contributions, said Duterte.
A total of 22.9 million people are set to receive the aid in Metro Manila and surrounding Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces, which were under the toughest lockdown level for 2 weeks.
The area has shifted to the third strictest quarantine status.
Meanwhile, senators described as “Bayanihan in action” the community pantries, the phenomenon fast growing among the villages and neighborhoods in the country.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said this was the Bayanihan spirit of the Filipino in modern times.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said community pantries was an expression of Filipino Bayanihan spirit.
“We are a caring and sharing people. This will be very helpful in assisting families cope with COVID. Frankly speaking. That’s how it works. People will organize themselves to survive,” he said.
Senator Joel Villanueva said the “community pantry” was spreading the spirit of “bayanihan” among members of the populace and helping in filling the gaps in government aid in some areas.
“I think it is ‘Love thy neighbor’ in practice, and the classic bayanihan in action. It is an indicator of our people’s selflessness, and, sadly, an indictment of their government’s many weaknesses in giving help,” Villanueva said.
Sen. Win Gatchalian said this was a symbol that ordinary Filipinos were ready and willing to help their needy kababayans.
He also said honesty system of the community pantry also showed discipline among those in need.
Sen. Nancy Binay, for her part, said community pantries were a decentralized community humanitarian response, proving the Bayanihan spirit is alive.
As Filipinos, Binay said, “we always have this unflinching desire to help whenever extraordinary circumstances call us to respond. It shows that Filipinos are naturally generous, compassionate, and have the heart for service.
“And when things seem uncertain, and despairing--community pantries are a testament that hope is not lost. Sharing does not need to have any color or politics.”
Sen. Imee Marcos said this proved that Filipinos could stand on their own two feet amid the pandemic “and that we can fight hunger and the pandemic in any way we can for our families.”
She added the emergence of community pantries also proved that Bayanihan was very much alive, “though it also mirrors the lack of government aid.”
“We are rolling out #ImeeKadiwa in different poor communities to offer cheaper, discounted prices on food and other “essentials,” she said.
She also has #IMEEtrabaho that offers thousands of jobs for janitors to professionals in various companies.”
Sen. Grace Poe stressed existence of community pantries was a sign that not all hope was lost, adding “The good in our fellow countrymen is shown through these community pantries. However, it’s a wake-up call that government must do more to provide for the people.”
Jailed Senator Leila de Lima lauded the joint efforts of Filipino people from different social classes to ensure that immediate food relief would be provided to residents affected by COVID-19 pandemic through their contributions in community pantries that have been set up within Metro Manila and other provinces.
Senator Francis Pangilinan himself said this was a way of being proactive against hunger in the absence of government aid.
At the same time, Senator Risa Hontiveros called on the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Interior and Local Government to address reported problems over the latest release of cash aid to struggling Filipinos, such as erroneous lists and crowded distribution venues.
She said the DSWD and DILG should look closely into all reports of problems involving the distribution of financial assistance, which is a matter of life and death for many Filipinos during this crisis.
The DILG recently revealed that only around P4.47 billion or 40 percent of allocated funds for cash aid or ayuda has been so far distributed in the National Capital Region by local government units.
She also mentioned instances when beneficiaries of the current Pantawid Program (4Ps) were not included in the list.
Meanwhile, Caritas Philippines lauded the efforts of individuals who initiated the establishment of the different communities in Manila and the whole country.
Caritas Philippines National Director Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said “we are very happy and thankful that our communities never cease to bring out the innate generosity, kindness and compassion in everyone even at a time when poverty is most visible.”
At least 79 community pantries have already been established across the country since April 14, 2021. According to Bishop Bagaforo, the emergence of community pantries “is one of the most Christian responses at a time when self-preservation and addiction to power are very eminent.”
Elsewhere, the Department of Health expressed support for community pantries, which it said were meant to bring much-needed help for families struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as contribute to the physical and mental health of people.
The DOH also reminded the local government authorities to ensure that protocol against the spread of the coronavirus, including physical distancing, is observed.
In the House, Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas said the spread of community pantries indicated the people were almost giving up on the government and were resorting to fending for themselves.
At the same time, Brosas said the spreading practice of self-help should prod Congress to fast-track the passage of House Bill 9089 or the 10K Ayuda Bill.
Brosas, the nominee of the Gabriela party-list group, said that the “rise in community pantry efforts reflects the dire state of the Filipino people who are suffering amid the economic crisis.”
Replying to questions, Roque said “What we are avoiding is the service fee. We don’t want to reduce what will be given to the public because P1,000 and P4,00 for a family are not that big.”
Meanwhile, former Vice President Jejomar Binay said the “simple” message of the community pantries was “when government is absent, we can look after each other.”
Asked for reaction, Roque said: “We disagree,” adding: “We think this community pantry shows that bayanihan is in effect, and not strife.
During the pandemic and this surge, we need to band together. Let us stop politicking, not in this time of surge.”
Roque said the community pantry “is a spontaneous movement among Filipinos” and he did not think anyone could claim to be its founder.
“It’s part of our psyche to help one another... I don’t see that as a condemnation of government. It simply shows the best in us during the worst of times.”
Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate, who belongs to the Makabayan Bloc, said that “community pantries are an act of resistance against the government’s neglect and indifference.”
The community pantry movement, Zarate said, “is solidarity not charity; efficiency, not incompetence; responsibleness not negligence; transparency not corruption.”
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire called on local government units to assist organizers of community pantries and “give guidance” on how people can line up to get supplies from the pantries without spreading the virus.
Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya of the Department of the Interior and Local Government said his agency “sees the community pantry as a reflection of the Bayanihan Spirit where people who have more share their blessings and those who are in need only get what they need.”
Malaya said, while the pandemic has brought out the worst in some, like faking of RT-PCR tests, it also “shown the best” in others “like our frontliners putting their lives on the line, and now, this community pantry.”
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