Rise of community pantries 'not a condemnation' of gov't pandemic efforts – Roque

Malacañang sees only good things in the rise of community pantries and refuses to see it as an indication of any failure of its programs to alleviate suffering amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I don't see that as condemnation of government. It simply shows the best in us during the worst of times," said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Monday, April 19, in a mix of English and Filipino.

The week before, citizens started putting up community pantries or carts stocked with food, hygiene products, masks, alcohol, and other basic necessities to help out members of their community who have lost income due to the pandemic.

Politicians and netizens have since said the adoption of community pantries in places as far as Baguio City indicate gaps in the government's aid distribution program.

Roque begged to disagree.

"Ay nako, we disgaree po. Ang tingin natin na itong  mga community pantry ay nagpapakita na bayanihan ang umiiral, hindi bangayan," he said.

(We disagree. We think these community pantries show that bayanihan spirit reigns, not bickering.)

He praised community pantries as a "showcase of the best in Filipino character" and saluted the Filipino spirit for its tenacity despite great challenges.

Admits slow distribution of aid

Pressed to comment on the status of the distribution of P1,000 in aid to low-income individuals during the recent two-week enhanced community quarantine, Roque admitted there have been delays.

"Naghihingi po tayong paumanhin dahil may kabagalan (We ask for your patience over the slowness)," said Roque, adding that only P4 billion out of P23 billion worth of aid have reached beneficiaries.

He blamed pandemic health protocols for the delay.

"Even in the distribution of aid there needs to be social distancing, this is the reason why there is a delay in distributing assistance," said Roque.

Yet, in 2020, the Department of Interior and Local Government had promoted their use of bank systems and transfers that reduced gatherings where cash subsidies were given in person.

One community pantry that became viral and was then replicated was the one in Quezon City put up by Patreng Non. In media interviews, she said she did it because she was "tired of complaining" and "tired of inaction."

Days later, Senator Panfilo Lacson commented in a DZBB radio interview that the increasing number of community pantries is a "sign of desperation"  and an indication that "people can no longer rely on government to help them."

Former vice president Jejomar Binay echoed the sentiment in a tweet: "The message behind the rise of community pantries is simple: when government is absent, we can look after each other." – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.