Eight senators crossed party lines to condemn the red-tagging of community pantries, urging the police and the government’s anti-insurgency task force to stop profiling the organizers behind the bayanihan initiative.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, April 20, the following senators from both the majority and minority blocs told the police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to leave community pantries alone:
The senators said the profiling of the community pantry organizers should stop, citing how “notorious” several police and military officers have become in accusing progressives and civic leaders of having links with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
"These community pantries have offered a venue for showing the true bayanihan spirit amid the hunger and poverty in this time of the pandemic. It is deplorable to paint this initiative with suspicions of communist links," the senators said.
"The harassment and intimidation of those involved in these relief efforts exacerbate the hunger and hardships of our citizens. We condemn these acts," they added.
Non’s brainchild has touched off a groundswell of kindness across the Philippines, with residents stepping up following the failure of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to send out aid to Filipinos severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
In these community pantries, strangers leave food and other essential items in a marked communal area. Anyone in need can freely take items from here.
Days into pantries' operations, however, reports have surfaced of cops allegedly profiling the organizers. The Philippine National Police denied it is behind this.
NTF-ELCAC executive director Antonio Parlade Jr also admitted in a DZBB interview that his task force was “doing background checks” on the community pantry organizers and accused of them of supposedly spreading “propaganda” about government failures.
Still, several senators already said the rise of the community pantries during the COVID-19 crisis is a clear sign that people are in “desperate” need of help.
In the same statement, the 8 senators promised to protect the rights of the community pantry organizers.
“We see you. We all know this is a community effort. We celebrate your energies and we stand with you all. We will always protect and uphold our fundamental rights, especially those toward a functioning and participative democracy,” said the senators.
Duterte has received widespread criticism for mishandling the country's COVID-19 pandemic response. The infectious disease has already claimed the lives of 16,048 people as of Monday, April 19. Of the total cases, 141,375 are active.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque already told the NTF-ELCAC not to impede the work of community pantries.
But pressed further on what Malacañang planned to do if the task force continued to red-tag the community pantry organizers, Roque merely said it is covered by freedom of speech.
Red-tagging has intensified under the Duterte administration, with police and military officers sharing social media posts accusing activists, human rights workers, and even lawmakers of having ties with the CPP.
Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @maracepeda.