Senators have appealed to the government to encourage people to take part in community pantries instead of making moves to stop or vilify the initiative.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III joined his colleagues Tuesday, April 20, in lamenting the reported profiling and red-tagging of organizers of community pantries.
“Gov[ernmen]t is having difficulty in distributing help, why make it more difficult for others to help? I don’t believe this!” Sotto said in a text message sent to reporters.
In a separate statement, he told government officials to instead learn from the efforts of private individuals.
“We should learn from the concept of community pantry, it’s simple and easy. I appeal to our officials not to make it difficult for those who want to help. This is the true spirit of bayanihan, so please leave them alone,” he appealed.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said that instead of censure, the government should commend and support the volunteers who only sought to help families hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Let them bloom wherever they sprout, regardless of who planted them. Bureaucracy has no business throwing a shade over this pure expression of people’s power,” he said after an official of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said in a television interview that organizers of community pantries must first apply for permits.
“Community pantries require no state franchise, nor government permit, nor police clearance. The business of helping your neighbor, as God commanded, requires no business permit from man,” Recto pointed out.
Officials, he said, should reflect on their actions against the organizers of community pantries.
“Those who see red in these bayanihan projects should have their hearts examined,” Recto said.
Echoing her colleagues, Sen. Grace Poe said: “Let’s not taint the initiatives to help stem hunger with suspicions of communist links. It puts their lives in peril, which is not the way to treat our people doing good for their countrymen.”
She stressed that law enforcers “must fulfill their duties of protecting the citizens, not intimidate them.”
“Community pantries should draw official support, not government suspicion,” Senator Joel Villanueva also said.
“May I gently remind them that in times when food is scarce and aid is sporadic, it is the worst kind of ‘social distancing advice’ that could come from a public official,” he told public officials.
Later, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año clarified that permits are not necessary to put up community pantries, but said organizers must coordinate with local governments amid the threat of the coronavirus infections.
He also denied ordering the Philippine National Police (PNP) to profile community pantry organizers, directing them “not [to] interfere except to ensure that minimum health standards are complied with”.