BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE
On April 14, 2021, Ana Patricia Non set up a kariton on Maginhawa St. in Quezon City (QC) and filled it with goods and vegetables. Above the bamboo cart was a sign— “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan (Give according to your ability, take according to your need).” Non posted the initiative online and soon enough, the social media post went viral.
Within days, hundreds of community pantries were set up all over the country. And as of writing, there are 1,650 recognized pantries. Needless to say, the initiative is a massive success. But it’s not without its struggles. COLOR OF THE PANTRY Days after the first community pantry began, Non was shocked when she saw a post that tagged the movement as a project by the “communist party.” The post also stated that the organizers, especially Non, were members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Moreover, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) also claimed that the pantries were merely a “front for rebel recruitment.”
I know there will be a point when people will experience donation fatigue. It’s a pandemic. But, ultimately, I dream that there will be a community pantry in every corner of the Philippines.
Non shares that while there were policemen around the area of the pantry, she thought they were there in good faith. At some point, however, they asked for her cellphone number and what organization she belonged to. “By then, I still didn’t think they were profiling me.
I guess I was in denial. But then I went home and saw the social media posts. So, we had to stop because I didn’t feel safe,” Non shared. “I was furious because they didn’t at least confirm or research if these allegations were true.” Among the vocal critics of the movement is Presidential Communications (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy Partosa.
Non reveals that they belong to the same organization in the University of the Philippines—UP Mountaineers. “That organization is a very tight knit community and we can contact one another. We may not know each other directly, but she can verify with our org-mates,” she stresses. “A part of me wanted to just ignore the red-tagging. But, of course, you can’t do that because plenty of people have died because of [red-tagging]. I have to take [the allegations] seriously, but this doesn’t mean that I want to let go of the movement. I just have to realign and remember why I started this.
We do this because there are people who need help, not because we want to please critics.” NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. General Antonio Parlade Jr. has also voiced his opinion regarding Non— “Alam mo, isang tao lang ‘yan, ‘di ba? Si Ana Patricia, di ba? Same with Satan. Si Satan, binigyan ng apple si Eve. Doon lang nagsimula ‘yun (You know, it’s only one person. Ana Patricia [Non], right? Same with Satan. Satan gave an apple to Eve and that’s where everything started).” On April 25, Parlade and Badoy were ordered to desist from making statements regarding community pantries.
National Security Adviser and NTF-ELCAC vice chair Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said that the gag order was made “to emphasize that NTF-ELCAC or Gen. Parlade or Usec. Badoy were not against bayanihan or community pantries.” He also clarified that the anti-communist insurgency council will “support, observe, and assist CPs (community pantries), as does the whole of government.” Several senators also voiced their support. In a joint statement, senators Franklin Drilon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Ralph Recto, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, and Francis Pangilinan called for an end to the “harassment and intimidation” experienced by the organizers and volunteers of the movement. “The profiling of organizers must stop. It puts people’s lives in danger,” the statement said. “Hunger is the problem and these relief efforts by private citizens should be encouraged.” Non also thanked QC Mayor Joy Belmonte for her assurance that the organizers of the Maginhawa community pantry would be protected. While their situation in Maginhawa is relatively safer due, in part, to Belmonte’s statement, Non laments that other pantries still have safety concerns. “I’ve been trying to coordinate with the local government. But I’m frustrated because I shouldn’t have to be worried about this because it is the job of the local government to ensure that their citizens are safe. If we have to ask for assistance and security, then there’s something wrong,” she points out. Apart from red-tagging, Non reveals that she has also been receiving a lot of death threats. For now, she will focus on making sure that the pantry and the movement is running smoothly. “I’m not going to forget these threats and I’ll file a case someday. But for now, I don’t want to focus my energy on that because these people who line up every day are my priority.”
MODERN BAYANIHAN The UP Fine Arts graduate is also eternally grateful for those who started their own community pantries, saying the movement would not be what it is if people had not responded to the call to help. “Because of all of you, the community is together again. Apart from food security, people are brought together,” she says. “This pandemic, we have been ‘social distancing.’ But because of the pantries, we are [physically] distancing, but with social solidarity.” She also notes how the pantry is changing the way people think of fellow Filipinos. “Filipinos often have this notion that we don’t have discipline and if it’s for free, then people will get it all. But now we’re changing the narrative. Delay the judgement and listen to the people. Don’t pull each other down.
After all, the spirit of bayanihan is in all of us,” she urges. Community pantries are not a novel concept. Non shares that her sister Jenny, who is living in the United States and does mutual aid, suggested she start a food pantry with the goods that she had collected through ayudas and grocery shopping. While this Western program kickstarted the initiative, Non elaborates that generosity and unity are inherent in Filipinos. “In the province, neighbors often exchange crops and goods.
The core is very much the same and it’s just something that we need to revive, especially now that many are struggling.” The movement, however, is far from perfect. In the Maginhawa pantry, hundreds used to line up every day to get food. Because of health and safety concerns, the team decided to decentralize the system.
The original pantry in Maginhawa now acts as a drop-off point for donations and goods, which is then distributed to over 25 pantries. “This new system is much better because it brings the goods closer to the people. Through this solidarity network, we plan on opening more distribution hubs across the country,” Non shares. “For now, this is the plan. But in the long run, I know there will be a point when people will experience donation fatigue. It’s a pandemic and we understand because the motto is to ‘give according to your ability.’ But, ultimately, I dream that there will be a community pantry in every corner of the Philippines. It doesn’t have to be fancy or huge, but at least it’s a place where people can go if they need help.” While there is no community pantry on every street yet, it is undeniable that the movement is already a huge help to the Filipino people. Some pantry organizers have shared their stories and insights regarding their local community.
COMING TOGETHER Zone 3 Rizal, Lapaz, Iloilo City “We hope to ease the hunger of the people within our community as food is a basic necessity. Knowing, for at least one day, that they will not be hungry this is already a huge help,” Iloilo Pride Team chairperson Irish Inocento shares. Inocento, like many community pantries organizers across the country, began the pantry because they were inspired by the one in Maginhawa. She says that the initiative, with its signature call-to-action phrase, also empowers the marginalized sector because it is not merely charity. “They realize that they also need to think of their fellowmen and not just focus on their own wellbeing,” she says. Like the one in Quezon City, Inocento reveals that they also experienced struggles. “We also weren’t spared from the red-tagging. Tarpaulins containing our faces and names were placed in public spaces, which caused severe mental and emotional anguish.” Fortunately, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas assured them that LEAGUE 23 community pantries don’t need permits to operate. “You do not need my permission to help your fellow Ilonggos,” Treñas said. With the encouragement of the local government, the Iloilo Pride Team continues their operations.
But at times, the experience can be bittersweet. “One time, an old lady was in the queue. We asked her if there was another person in their family who could line up instead. She said that they were only two in the family and the other one is blind.
The breadwinner was their nephew who worked in Dubai. But then he died last year,” Inocento shares. BEYOND CHARITY Mandaluyong City For Con Paminiano, the feeling of desperation, frustration, and anger of the people towards their predicament is “very palpable.” But, at the same time, there are individuals who help renew people’s faith in humanity. “One lolo simply took a single tomato and said ‘Sapat na ‘to (This is enough).’ He said there are more people in line and they may need the goods more [than he does],” the pantry organizer shares. “I saw him again after that and his mindset was very much the same. He was such a pure soul.” Unfortunately, their pantry was shut down by the local barangay because of crowd control issues. Currently, Paminiano is working on an “online community pantry” and is coordinating with independent riders and tricycle drivers to pull off the project.
Roadblocks, barriers, and difficulties will always be there, she stresses. But what keeps her going are the people who rely on the aid. HOPE IN HUMANITY Angat, Bulacan In Bulacan, a community pantry was started by Hiraya ng Pag-asa or Vision of Hope, an organization formed by 26 volunteers. Its head organizers are Clarence Alba, Joaquinn Jader, Federico Baldoza, and Rafael Flores.
Flores and Alba were the ones who started the organization because they were inspired by the original pantry in Quezon City.
Their non-political, nonpartisan organization aims to prove that there is still “hope in humanity and to show that Filipinos still look out for their fellow Filipinos.” Their motto, “Mula sa masa, para sa masa (By the people, for the people),” stresses that their organization is merely an instrument of modern bayanihan, not a charitable group. Like other pantries, they also have their fair share of hardships and it is also difficult for them to hear the stories of the people. “But we know what we feel for them is just a fraction of their daily struggles, so we do our best to broaden our reach and try to help more,” Alba says.