The Public Attorneys Office (PAO) on Tuesday, April 20, assured all community pantry organizers of its legal assistance in cases of red-tagging and harassment by law enforcement officers.
“Huwag kayo mag-alala. Kung may huhuli po sa inyo na namimigay kayo ng pagkain nandito po ang PAO (Don’t worry. If anyone arrests you for handing out food, the PAO is here),” PAO Chief Persida V. Acosta declared.
“Kami po ang magtatanggol sa inyo. Ready po kami ipagtanggol mga kababayan natin na tumutulong lamang ay sila pa makakasuhan (We will defend you. We are ready to defend those who only want to help but get charged instead),” Acosta stressed.
She pointed out that a community pantry is part of the Filipino culture of “bayanihan” or helping each other.
“Halos limang dekada na ako namimigay. Ibig sabihin ba ako ay red? Hindi. Filipino ako (I have been making donations for five decades. Does this mean I am a communist? No. I am a Filipino),” she said.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra has asked law enforcement agencies to leave alone persons who organized community pantries in the country.
The Commission on Human Rights, on the other hand, condemned the red-tagging and harassment of the pantry organizers.
The Maginhawa Community Pantry in Quezon City has inspired others to come up with their own community pantries where people can donate and share their food to those in need.
However, Ana Patricia Non, the organizer of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, posted on Facebook that their volunteers have been forced to stop distributing goods and accepting donations after they were red-tagged.
Acosta advised Non not to stop her operation.
“Kung sakaling may mangha-harass sa inyo, may mananakot sa inyo, nandito po kami para kayo ay proteksyunan (If anyone harasses you, threatens you, we are here to protect you),” Acosta assured.
“Karapat-dapat kayo proteksyunan dahil may mabuting puso po kayo na tumulong sa mga nagugutom at walang makain ngayon (You deserve to be protected because you have a good heart in helping those who are hungry),” she explained.
She said she fully supports community pantries and urged persons to assist them or start similar activities.
But she said that policemen are compelled to visit community pantries to maintain peace and order.
“Syempre sila ang may tungkulin na pangalagaan ang peace and order. Pag pumalpak sila, sila ang masisisi (It is their duty to maintain peace and order. If they fail, they get the blame),” she said.