Community pantries

Moreno rejects calls to protect Cagayan de Oro’s community pantries

Herbie Gomez

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Moreno rejects calls to protect Cagayan de Oro’s community pantries

File photo of Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno.

Oscar Moreno Facebook pagge

After saying he was against red-tagging, Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno refuses to send cops to defend threatened community pantry organizers

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno dismissed the harassments on community pantry organizers in the city as mere social media trolling as he rejected calls for city hall to give people behind the initiatives protection.

“I can’t assign the police to protect just about anyone who gets trolled,” Moreno told an online news conference livestreamed on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, April 21.

He added: “The problem is social media itself.”

Moreno said he too was a victim of a systematic smear campaign on social media by trolls, too, and he learned to accept it as part of his political life.

“So, it’s difficult. If I send the police to protect someone who got trolled, then, soon, everyone who gets trolled will also ask me for police protection. I cannot do that,” he said.

The harassments of pantry organizers though have gone beyond mere trolling on social media. The first community pantry set up in the city stopped operations on its third day of food aid-giving after a still unidentified group linked them to the communist insurgency in leaflets and posters circulated in the city.

The same day, Wednesday, April 21, a group of men went to see restaurateur Norkhalila Mae Mambuay-Campong to ask questions like where she was getting funds for the halal community pantry that she opened on Aguinaldo Street on Tuesday, April 20. She said the men took photos.

Campong said the experience was “weird,” but “I did not feel intimidated.”

Campong said the men introduced themselves as members of a police intelligence group out to do a report on community pantries in Cagayan de Oro.

Moreno’s pronouncements immediately drew flak from a prominent human rights activist in the city.

“It’s high time for Mayor Moreno to walk the talk,” said prominent human rights lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni.

Musni pointed out that Moreno earlier said he was against the red-taggings, and even cautioned “overzealous groups” against intimidating and harassing organizers of community pantries in the city.

She said the Kauswagan community pantry could have continued helping the needy had Moreno put his words into action.

Musni, a member of the Union of People’s Lawyers of Mindanao (UPLM), led a multisectoral group in asking the city’s legislature in 2019, to pass an ordinance that would protect citizens against red-taggings in the city by penalizing violators. She said neither Moreno nor the City Council acted on the petition until now.

She challenged Moreno to cross the line of what she called as the state’s “highly unpopular attack” on community pantry organizers, and “defend and join the multitude feeding the multitude, the bayanihan way.”

She added: “For him to walk the talk, it is best that he direct the city council to facilitate the adoption of a city ordinance criminalizing red tagging. If this is done under his watch, he will be kindly remembered in history.”

Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma frowned on the red-taggings while current Archbishop Jose Cabantan called for more community pantries in the city despite the setbacks.

“Red-tagging offers no food nor solution,” a Mindanews report quoted Ledesma as saying.

Cabantan, for his part, led the Catholic archdiocese in opening its own community pantry in a church in Barangay Nazareth on Thursday, April 22, with a call for citizens to continue sharing to the needy. –

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.