Ana Patricia Non, the organizer of the Maginhawa community pantry in Quezon City, on Wednesday resumed the distribution of free goods a day after its operation stopped because of red-tagging.
She said no one could stop her to push through with the pantry’s operation, citing her intention to help those in need was pure.
Earlier, Non was forced to close down the pantry when authorities came to ask her contact number and what organization she belonged to.
Non, a 26-year-old University of the Philippines graduate, put up a community pantry on Maginhawa Street in front of a convenience store and a restaurant to offer basic goods for free.
The Quezon City government’s Task Force Disiplina members were deployed to Maginhawa after Non appealed to Mayor Joy Belmonte to assist her.
Red-tagging refers to the malicious blacklisting of individuals or organizations critical or not fully supportive of the actions of a sitting government administration. They are “tagged” as either a communist or terrorist or both, regardless of one’s actual political beliefs or group affiliations.
Meanwhile, Non said the rise of community pantries nationwide was a “wake-up call” for President Rodrigo Duterte that government aid was not enough, adding such pantries would continue to serve as long as there were people in need and willing donors.
Non, who put up the first bamboo cart filled with free goods in Maginhawa Street, in Diliman near the Teachers Village, told ANC’s Headstart:
“President Duterte, I appeal that this be a wakeup call that the Filipinos’ income and government aid are not enough. I hope you can see that people won’t line up if they don’t need to. It’s being experienced nationwide.”
The Maginhawa store temporarily stopped on Tuesday after local police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) shared social media posts accusing community pantries of propaganda.
“It never crossed my mind to stop the community pantry. I’m sure it would continue as long as there are people in need and people are willing to help,” Non said.
“We just needed to pause yesterday to ensure security as red-tagging is not a joke...We just needed to ensure the organizers, donors and people lining up are safe,” she added.
Groups and individuals are free to set up community pantries to help the needy but using these to incite hatred against the government is a different story, the Philippine National Police said.
PNP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Ronaldo Olay, made this remark, following reports of some community pantries where anti-government leaflets are being distributed to beneficiaries.
“We have relayed this to the commanders on the ground because what we are after is that these should not be abused or taken advantage of by some groups. As for us, there is nothing wrong with helping one another in the spirit of bayanihan but if these are taken advantage of by other organizations that have other motives. This gives a different interpretation of their acts,” Olay said in a Laging Handa briefing.
Olay added that community pantry organizers had nothing to fear about the presence of police officers, stressing that their only concern was to ensure orderly distribution and observance of health protocols.
“The police officers were only deployed to ensure peace and order for people lining up at the pantries. So that no one will skip the lines,” he said.
Olay added that PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas had ordered an investigation into the alleged profiling and red tagging of community pantry organizers by police officers.
“He has ordered the CIDG and the ACG to probe these Facebook accounts of the PNP that shared alleged red-tagging posts,” he said.
Meanwhile, Department of the Interior and Local Government Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya also appealed to groups and people to spare the noble cause from politics.
“Whatever they say during those community pantries, if they put on signs, are part of protected speech. We are a democratic society and people can say whatever they want. However, we in the DILG would rather that people do not include politics in the community pantry,’’ Malaya said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
Malaya emphasized that adding political color to community pantries may turn these acts into an act of propaganda.
The DILG official noted that the department appeals to the public and organizers of the community pantry “to keep this initiative politically zero so that we do not further complicate current health situation.’’
“We are already in a disaster and then we are ascribing politics to what should be selfless acts of kindness,’’ said Malaya.
While there is nothing wrong with compassionate persons and groups banding together to help people severely affected by the economic dislocation caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a ranking official of the NTF-ELCAC said it was their duty to inform the public of dubious groups attempting to hijack the initiative.
“Informing the Filipino people to be careful about dubious organizations and individuals is our job,” task force spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. said in a statement to the Philippine News Agency Tuesday night.
He clarified that warning the public about dubious groups with links to communist terrorist organizations was not red-tagging.
“It is not us red-tagging them because red-tagging doesn’t exist in the first place. Our courts have been very clear about this. They have declared that there is no danger to life, liberty, and security when you are identified as members of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front),” Parlade said.
Profilers to be probed
The National Capital Region Police Office will investigate police officers involved in the alleged profiling of community pantry organizers, its commander Police Major General Vicente Danao Jr. said.
Interviewed on Super Radyo dzBB, Danao pointed out that there was no such instruction from the police leadership to conduct profiling on the people behind the community pantry trend.
“If ever there was profiling, our office will investigate. But there was no instruction coming from higher level, or my level, and even at the level of police director to do it,” he said.
PNP chief Sinas on Tuesday denied the alleged police profiling of organizers of community pantries, which sprouted recently amid the hardship brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the House of Representatives, the Makabayan Bloc filed House Resolution 1723 urging the chamber’s committee on human rights to investigate in aid of legislation the alleged profiling and red-tagging of community pantry volunteers and organizers.
One of the bloc’s members, Assistant Minority Leader France Castro, said “acts of kindness, generosity and selflessness are not terrorist acts."
“The real terrorists are those vilifying the community’s solidarity to the people our government has repeatedly abandoned. Threatening community pantries and its organizers shows that the Duterte administration is threatened by the power of the people to show solidarity to one another amid its failures and demand for better solutions to the worsening crisis in the country,” added Castro, nominee of ACT Teachers.
For her part, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas asked the House Committee on Economic Affairs to tap the P19-billion budget of NTF-ELCAC to provide sufficient cash aid to Filipino families.
Gabriela Women’s Party has filed House Bill 9089 which seeks P10,000 cash aid to families affected by the pandemic, crisis and calamities.
The proposed measure is now being consolidated with the Bayanihan 3 bill for approval by the committee.
‘No law violated’
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines meanwhile said no law had been violated by organizers of the so-called “community pantries” who merely have good intentions of distributing free food items and other essentials to the poor and needy neighbors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
IBP president Domingo Cayosa stressed that such an initiative should instead be praised and not be a subject of profiling by the authorities.
“No law is violated when one feeds the hungry and helps the needy survive in this pandemic. Community pantries should be praised, not profiled; replicated, not red-tagged; supported, not stopped,” Cayosa said.
The IBP official made the statement following reports of alleged red tagging and profiling of some organizers by police officers in some parts of Metro Manila.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año had said that individuals who plan to set up community pantries do not need to secure permits from local officials.
A party-list lawmaker on Wednesday said “armchair bureaucrats” should lay off the charitable community pantries put up by well-meaning Filipinos to help other families put food on the table.
Rep. Michael Defensor of Anakalusugan also rejected as “ridiculous” the proposal for barangays, cities and municipalities to require organizers of community pantries to obtain permits.
The pitch was made by DILG Undersecretary Martin Dino in a television interview.
“Sadly, we do have several officials who are so out of touch with the reality on the ground and have apparently become overly accustomed to the office culture,” Defensor said.
“We are supporting these community pantries because we want to save more households, especially those with children, from involuntary hunger, amid rising joblessness and soaring food prices,” the vice chairperson of the House committee on welfare of children, said.
“Despite and because of the COVID-19 crisis, millions of Filipinos are forced to go out every day to eke out a living and look for food that they can put on the table, and these community pantries have proven helpful,” he said.
Defensor urged other local governments to follow the example set by Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno and Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, both of whom have forbidden barangay as well as police officials from interfering with the activities of community pantries.
Due to the pandemic, some 4.2 million Filipinos have lost their jobs while another 7.9 million have suffered pay cuts at work, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
The number of Filipino families experiencing involuntary hunger hit a record 21.1 percent for the whole of 2020, according to a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations.
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