Cops change approach, set up own community pantries in Cagayan de Oro

Police in Cagayan de Oro City have started setting up their own community pantries Monday morning, April 26. They have also reached out to organizers of community pantries, encouraging them to continue their acts of generosity with the assurance that law enforcers would respect and protect their rights.

"All police stations and units in the city have been required to set up their own pantries," said Lieutenant Colonel Joel Nacua, spokesperson of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (COCPO). "These will be open to help the needy for 7 days."

The regional police office is also set to open a community pantry dubbed "Barangayanihan" in Barangay Bonbon, announced its spokesperson, Captain Francisco Sabud Jr.

The sudden turnaround in the police's approach came after they suffered backlash due to a wave of red-tagging incidents, aggravated by a local police official's pronouncement that all those red-tagged in the city were continuously being monitored "until implicated."

Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District representative, has called on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to start separate investigations into the red-taggings and the profiling of pantry organizers in the city.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also cautioned against the prospects of Cagayan de Oro turning into the "red-tagging capital of the Philippines," urging local officials and civil society groups to act on the problem.

Police also delivered vegetables to the city's first halal community pantry on Aguinaldo Street on Friday, April 23, and sent an official to assure organizers of another pantry in Barangay Kauswagan that they could resume their initiative.

The Kauswagan pantry, the first to be set up in the city, was closed on April 21, the third day of its operations, after anti-communist leaflets and posters spread in the village against its organizers.

Human rights

"We are committed to protect human rights," said Lieutenant Colonel Lemuel Gonda, COCPO deputy director for administration. He said the police's actions right after the first community pantries in the city sprouted were "misinterpreted."

Police officers, he said, were sent to the community pantries last week not to profile organizers, but to check if people were following public health protocols. He said the city police are members of the local COVID-19 inter-agency task force.

Norkhalila Mae Mambuay-Campong, the halal pantry organizer, said police went back to assure her that they were not into red-tagging, and that officers came to help in the orderly distribution of food aid and to keep people from overcrowding. 

Last week, Campong said a group of men, who introduced themselves as police intelligence agents, asked her questions such as where she was getting her resources for her pantry.

"We are not profiling the organizers, and we have nothing to do with the red-taggings. We fully support the community pantry initiatives," Gonda told Rappler.

He said he also called out Lieutenant Colonel Nacua over his statement on the extent of the government's anti-communist campaign.

"He (Nacua) said he was speaking in general terms," Gonda said without elaborating. "Rest assured, that is not our position in the COCPO." –