The outpouring of kindness and generosity through the community pantries has been nothing short of phenomenal. As of last count, over 300 community pantries have been set up nationwide, all of them offering Filipinos displaced economically by the pandemic the means to survive the uncertainties of hunger and unemployment.
It has also caught the attention of the international community and prestigious publications like the Washington Post. In an article, the Post wrote that the community pantries, which it described as a “grass-roots action,” underscored the “economic pain Filipinos are experiencing as they battle one of Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks and a harsh lockdown.”
The administration has taken the more prudent position of embracing the rise of the community pantries as an example of the Filipino bayanihan spirit, choosing to ignore the fact that they are also testaments to government neglect. Government agencies, the Philippine National Police, and the defense and military establishments in particular, have not only donated vegetables to the community pantries but also set up their own.
“Kindness is everyone’s color,” a statement released by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week said. “Kahit ano ang paniniwala, basta taos pusong tumutulong, susuportahan natin. The DND appreciates and supports these community pantries.”
The Defense Secretary’s statement was echoed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana. “Now with COVID-19, some sectors of our society are locked down, they could not earn, that’s why this gesture of feeding our less fortunate brothers is a humanitarian action which your armed forces, being the protector of the people, is supporting,” Sobejana said in an interview.
These statements from the Defense Secretary and the AFP chief can only come from officers and gentlemen, and remind us of the sense of patriotism and selfless service that is embodied in the esprit de corps of the armed forces. Yet it remains a puzzle why the military general who serves as spokesperson for the government’s anti-communist task force persisted in his virulent attacks on the community pantries, particularly the one along Maginhawa Street in Teacher’s Village, and its founder, Ana Patricia Non.
Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade not only confirmed that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has been monitoring the community pantries, but he sought to portray the community pantries as venues for raising funds for communists without even proffering the slightest sliver of evidence. He also made unfounded, un-Christian, and ungentlemanly remarks against Non, which were in turn echoed by several government personalities and social media outlets identified with the administration.
Several senators, incensed by the actuations of Parlade, have called for a “defunding” of the NTF-ELCAC, which operates on a budget of P16 billion for the current year. To the discerning and the wise, this should be reason enough for Parlade to shut his trap. But he seems to possess neither of these traits, opting to up the ante by calling senators who have criticized him as “stupid senators.”
For this, he has been summoned to explain his statement to the Senate, and to make a full accounting of how the P16 billion anti-communist kitty is being spent. His superior in the task force, former AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon, has wisely issued a gag order on Parlade and his subordinate.
Once again, Parlade, the red-tagging general, made a conclusion of fact about the supposed motive behind the community pantries simply because its founder is a graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP). And for him and his cohorts, a UP graduate is automatically a communist, and whatever activities they undertake even after graduation are intended to aid the communist cause.
It has never crossed Parlade’s mind that by repeatedly describing the community pantries as communist initiatives, he is painting the so-called enemies of the state in the colors of sunshine, as approachable, caring, and selfless individuals. He is portraying communism as a movement of charity and sharing similar to Christianity and other faiths founded on these core values. He is unwittingly giving the communists a boost in positive publicity.
Parlade may have inadvertently altered the public’s perception of the communist movement. Such is the irony, and also the consequence, when people in government fail to see beyond their narrow field of vision.