Community pantries spread hope to the nation

Published April 24, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

Who would have thought that Filipinos themselves would provide a ray of hope amid the gloom and doom of the pandemic? But that’s exactly what has been happening for days now, with the setting up of community pantries in Metro Manila and in many parts of the country.

The community pantries that have sprung across the Philippines are the latest grassroots-based and grassroots-focused response to the pandemic’s terrible effects on our people’s lives.

Community pantries are to 2021, in the same way the PPE donation drives, free rides, free housing free meals and free haircuts all for healthcare workers, and community kitchens and community feeding programs were to 2020.

The drawing power of community pantries comes from its simple and compelling call to action: “magbigay ayon sa iyong kakayahan, kumuha ayon sa iyong pangangailangan.” More than kindness or compassion, the community pantries summon solidarity among our people, connecting the well-to-do with people who are in dire need of food assistance.

Writing for the online progressive news outlet Bulatlat, sociology professor Sarah Raymundo of the University of the Philippines Diliman shares that the idea of solidarity is intrinsic among out indigenous peoples and national minorities, specifically our Lumads and Aeta communities.

Professor Raymundo’s Bulatlat essay is a must-read, as it expands the conversation beyond the current contours set by mainstream media coverage and social media conversations. She quickly gathered points of view ranging from ethnocultural and feminist to historical and political economy.

In addition, solidarity also resonates among our Igorot brothers and sisters in the north.

Faith-based groups have likewise weighed in, with various Christian traditions and the Muslim faith coming into a common understanding that their faith compels them to assist the poor and the needy, and to be an active part of the community.

Neighborhoods and households are not without experience in launching community events: Year-round, barangays and neighborhoods hold sports leagues, pageants, contests, various youth events, programs for the elderly and the sick, Christmas gift-giving, fiestas, and disaster relief operations. Organizing a community pantry is thus not that impossible to grasp and to undertake in any street, barangay or district.

The Philippines is also the epicenter and headquarters for the countless community organizations, professional associations, non-government organizations and cause-oriented groups. These organizations are familiar to people, and trusted by the people, for responding to their needs, for mobilizing them in common causes, and for improving their lives wherever they may operate. The power of organizing and organizations have always been in the regular arsenal of Filipinos, colorfully illustrated by the now-familiar  metaphoric paintings of Filipinos coming together to carry and move a “bahay kubo” from one point to another.

Thus, it was not unexpected to see the attempts to demonize and dehumanize the organizers of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, and to scare the growing number of community pantries into disappearing, to fail in an epic manner. Filipinos simply cannot find any basis to impute malice or accept any claim that the pantry organizers could possibly be likened to Satan. The red-tagging may have stopped the Maginhawa initiative for a day, but the very next day, truckloads of food aid arrived in a stellar display of courage, clarity of thought, and solidarity among donors. Even the intrigue against the PayPal donation drive backfired, with more donors pitching in defiance of red-tagging.

As of this writing, no respectable social group, political force or institution has backed the attempts to falsely and maliciously tag the pantries. Senators and congressmen, mayor and barangay captains, ambassadors and faith leaders, and even the defense department and the Palace have backed the community pantries. The mayors swiftly and unequivocally endorsed the community pantries, and declared that no permits are necessary to start or operate them. “Permits to help are not needed,” said Mayor Vico Sotto.

Instead, the ragtag group of rumor-mongers attacking the community pantries are growing more isolated by the hour. It is simply impossible to argue against solidarity, kindness, compassion, cooperation and collaboration. Whether the basis is one’s faith, ethics, ideology or creed, Filipinos are mobilizing themselves to provide food aid to the poor.

The charge that community pantries could only be the handiwork of communists for being “too organized” is also backfiring. This backhanded tribute to Reds and activists could in fact elevate them in the eyes of the public. For if they really instigated this explosion of hope and social solidarity, then the Philippines need more of them and more of their ideas at this time, what’s wrong with it? They’re Filipinos too.