Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno has offered some tips on Wednesday, April 21, on how to deal with the law enforcers if they approach community pantries.
In a Facebook post, the veteran lawyer has shared some insights amid complaints and social media posts about policemen interrogating organizers of their affiliation and intention in opening community pantries.
This as some government officials attempted to link community organizers to communist rebels.
Asked for name and affiliation
Diokno said that if a police or any member of a law enforcement agency would visit a community pantry, organizers should politely ask them of their name and agencies they are connected to.
“Kung hindi pumayag (If they not permitted), politely say that you can’t accommodate them, dahil hindi mo alam kung law enforcers ba talaga sila (because you don’t know if they are really law enforcers),” Diokno said.
And if organizers or volunteers are being asked to fill out a form, Diokno said they are in no obligation to comply since personal information is guaranteed by the Constitution and some laws to be protected.
Law enforcers not allowed to enter private property without a search warrant
The veteran lawyer said law enforcers should be barred from entering a private property where the community pantry is set up if they do not have any search warrant–unless the owners allowed them to.
“If the police insist, or imply that you are hiding something, assert your right. Tell them: ‘Karapatan ko po yan, at yan po ang advice sa akin ng abogado’ (That’s my right, and that’s the lawyer’s advice to me),” Diokno said.
If the community pantry is on a public land, law enforcers do not need a search warrant to enter the premises.
But Diokno said they still need a search warrant to search the community pantry or any other private property that is on public land.
“If the community pantry is on public land, make sure you are not obstructing traffic, littering, or otherwise violating any similar local regulations,” he said.
No mayor, barangay or DSWD permit needed
Diokno said if law enforcers would ask for a business permit or mayor’s permit, organizers should insist that community pantry is not a business operation and therefore, requires no permit.
“Your only purpose is to help the needy and marginalized,” he said.
If they would ask to present a barangay permit, Diokno said organizers can point out that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Anti-Red Tape Authority have already publicly stated in separate announcements that there’s no need for a barangay permit.
Meanwhile, if the law enforcers would ask for authority to solicit from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Diokno said: “Required lang ang authority to solicit sa regional and national fund campaigns, at hindi ito naga-apply sa community pantry (authority solicit is only required in regional and national fund campaigns, and it does not apply to the community pantry).”
No violated IATF guidelines
The lawyer said the community pantries do not violate any of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guidelines.
“IATF guidelines/regulations are only recommendatory and do not have the force of law unless they are adopted by the LGU as a local ordinance,” Diokno said.
“Even under IATF guidelines, mass gatherings for authorized humanitarian activities are allowed under ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) and MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine). Since a permit is not required to operate a community pantry, and the poor are urgently in need of food, a community pantry is an authorized humanitarian activity,” he added.
Do not physically resist
If law enforcers would try to demolish or dismantle the community pantry, Diokno said organizers should politely and firmly object.
“But do not physically resist,” Diokno said.
“Kumuha ng (Take) pictures o video recording to document what they are doing. Tandaang hindi mo kailangan ng consent nila para mag-record (Remember you do not need their consent to record). The Anti-Wiretapping Act only requires the consent of the parties kung private conversation or communication ito,” he added.
Diokno advised organizers to read the documents carefully before signing or asked first lawyers before signing it.
“Kung mapilit ang pulis, pwedeng gamitin ang non-dominant hand halimbawa kung kaliwete, gamitin ang kanang kamay (If the police insist, use the non-dominant hand for example if left-handed, use the right hand), o gumamit ng pirma (or use another signature) other than your regular signature, so you can later explain that you were forced to sign,” he said.
“You can refer to the primer made by FLAG, PCIJ, and the Foundation for Media Alternatives, which you can access through this linktree: http://diokno.ph/knowyourrights,” he added.
Earlier, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) accused several community pantries, saying that it was a work of front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade said that the “NTF-ELCAC is indeed conducting a background check on its organizers.”
Several community pantries have sprouted in Metro Manila and in the provinces with the aim of giving food and supplies to everyone in need amid the economic difficulties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.