The community pantry movement in the Philippines is now international news. As of writing, one has even been established in Timor-Leste, in addition to the hundreds set up on all of our islands, from Aparri to Jolo, all in a week or two.
But together with its popularity, which arises from the needs of many, we have also seen the ugly reaction of the government – instances of red-tagging, intimidation, and profiling of organizers and volunteers, as well as threats of legal action against Angel Locsin.
At the height of the rapid spread of these pantries, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. likened Patreng Non, the person behind the Maginhawa Community Pantry, to Satan, claiming that she was deceiving all those who supported and patronized the pantries, and those who gave their time.
Presidential Communications Undersecretary and NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Badoy also jumped into the fray. In a Facebook post, Badoy said that people should demand an accounting of funds and sowed suspicion about the organizers.
The red-tagging, however, backfired, as community pantries, especially the Maginhawa one, have seen an almost exponential increase in support and cash since the posts. Among their strongest reporters are our churches, which have also set up their own pantries. Commenting on Parlade’s Satan quip, Bishop Ted Bacani, who certainly knows his theology, stated unequivocally that it is the red-tagger who is under the influence of Satan.
The backlash has been so strong that National Security Advisor and NTF-ELCAC vice-chairperson Hermogenes Esperon Jr. had to impose a gag order on his NTF-ELCAC colleagues. The truth is that this was damage control, as they were losing the fight for the hearts and minds of citizens on the issue of community pantries.
While I support this gag order, Secretary Esperon should also take back his statement on wanting to look into the organizers to check if they have established links with communist groups.
The support for community pantries – for expressing kindness and community solidarity – must be unequivocal and unconditional. And as we are at it, I hope the good secretary also stops the Duterte administration's vicious attacks against the Lumad schools.
For the past six months, I have been working closely with the administrators, teachers, and students of these schools, and they too reflect the best of this country – boundless generosity, a commitment to serve the most marginalized of our communities, and a strong work ethic and incredible competence that are making a difference in the lives of Lumad children. They do not deserve to be harassed, red-tagged, and attacked by the NTF-ELCAC.
As mentioned, despite the red-tagging, community pantries have received an outpouring of support, either through donations or through the creation of even more pantries. Not even the unfortunate incident involving the community pantry of Angel Locsin has stopped the movement. On the latter, I echo the opinion of Dean Mel Sta Maria, that Locsin has no legal liability for the accident. That she has taken responsibility for it and for making sure the victim’s family is assisted says a lot about the great character of the actress.
The barangay chairman of Holy Spirit, who is also my neighbor, was respectfully advised to lay off the people’s Angel. There is no way you can also win the hearts and minds of people on this issue. We have seen what happened in the University of the Philippines and how the unfortunate words of a colleague, whom I personally like and admire for his work on disasters and emergency, compelled him to resign.
I repeat: you cannot attack persons for being kind and generous. That is a no-win situation for anyone.
There are, of course, lessons learned from the Locsin community pantry, and I trust she and other pantry organizers have learned that.
In addition to learning how to manage queues and crowds, community pantry organizers must quickly learn the basics of setting up and sustaining social enterprises. In fact, community pantries are social enterprises and should be approached as such if the organizers have decided on sustaining them over the long haul.
As a founder of Ashoka Philippines (now led by Abi Mapua) and founding Chair of the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA), I have described social entrepreneurs as creative individuals who, quoting from David Bornstein’s How To Change the World, "sees a problem and envisions a new solution, takes the initiative to act on that vision, gathers resources and builds organizations to protect and market that vision, provides the energy and sustained focus to overcome the inevitable resistance, and who, through time, keeps improving, strengthening, and broadening the vision until what was once a marginal idea has become a new norm.”
The above description fits Patreng Non and others like her. I hope they will link up with other social entrepreneurs I know – the dozen Ashoka Fellows we have inaugurated, mentors like Dr. Lisa Dacanay, and pioneers in the field such as Melissa Yeung Yap of Earth Kitchen, Anya Lim of Cebu, RagstoRiches founder Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, artists Desiree Llanos Dee and Ayen de la Torre, and balikbayan Esperanza Garcia.
Fortunately, many local officials have shown support for the community pantries that have sprouted in their jurisdiction. Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, for instance, slammed the NTF-ELCAC for sowing fear among community pantry organizers, and gave her support to these pantries. Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro, Makati Mayor Abby Binay, and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno have already said that the community pantries do not need to secure permits to operate, belying DILG Usec Martin Diño’s proclamations that pantry organizers would need to secure the same.
Nationally, Vice President Leni Robredo and her predecessor Jojo Binay have been unswerving in their support. They are the two most trustworthy politicians in the country.
In the meantime, our senators have been pushing back against the red-tagging by members of the NTF-ELCAC. On April 20, Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Frank Drilon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Kiko Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Ralph Recto urged the police and the NTF-ELCAC to end red-tagging and harassment, and to leave community pantries alone; they also condemned the posts of the NTF-ELCAC on social media. Five of these senators, including Joel Villanueva, have also brought up the idea of withdrawing funding for the NTF-ELCAC and reallocating its budget instead towards COVID-19 assistance.
Senator Richard Gordon also questioned the manner by which NTF-ELCAC is spending its budget. He tweeted, “Helping our people is natural to us and there are plenty of other things we can focus on. Gen. Parlade should go back to the military instead of concentrating on harassing our people with red-tagging accusations.”
The past few days have shown us all who the true enemy of the Filipino people is. It is not the volunteers, donors, and organizers of the various community pantries. It is not the masa, the activists, the church groups, and the youth. It is most definitely not the Lumad school administrators, teachers, and students.
With their incessant red-tagging, their harassment, and their profiling of people who only want to help out, it is clear who the enemy of the people is. The NTF-ELCAC should be disbanded and defunded, and the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front should be resumed. Let us once and for all address the roots of our social conflicts. – Rappler.com
Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.