The emergence of community pantries in the country is laudable, but we also shouldn’t forget about the “deeper” issues that made them necessary in the first place, said Ana Patricia Non, the proponent of the first community pantry in Quezon City.
“Though good siya, may unity and nako-continue, kailangan talaga natin isipin yung problema na kinakaharap natin, yung mas malalim pa pong issue,” Non said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday, April 19.
Community pantries have been cropping up in different parts of the Philippines after Non set up her own in Maginhawa, Quezon City last week, amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected people’s livelihood and sources of income.
Non, a 26-year-old furniture designer, said she got the idea for the community pantry when her neighborhood was placed in a local lockdown, days before the enhanced community quarantine was imposed earlier this month. She owns a small business, which was affected by the pandemic.
“Sabi ng family ko, ang goal lang natin is mabuhay, mag-survive, tapos magpalakas. Kung may sakit naman po, magpagaling,” she said. “Ginawa ko naman siya pero hindi mawala sa isip ko na may mga taong hindi magawa yung stay safe, stay home. Kasi nakasalalay yung pagkain nila sa araw-araw na livelihood.”
Maginhawa's community pantry—makeshift stalls where anyone can get and receive food and other essential items for free, from items donated by other people— has been emulated days after Non’s initiative turned viral in other cities and communities such as Manila, Quezon City, Laguna, Pampanga, Palawan, and Nueva Vizcaya,
The online tracker “Saan May Community Pantry?” has listed community pantries in areas such as Aparri, Baguio, Pangasinan, Naga, and Leyte, among others.
Non is happy that her community pantry has inspired others to do the same. But, for her, the emergence of community pantries is a sign that there is a need for them
“Hindi nawawala yung lungkot na siguro kaya rin nila sinet up ito kasi nakita nila na andun yung pangangailangan ng kababayan nila, ng ka-community nila kasi hindi naman isolated case yung gutom and hirap sa Pilipinas,” she said.
Non also said, “Ito po talaga yung kailangan ngayon. Katulad po ng nakikita natin sa news po, sa balita, na ang haba ng pila sa ayuda. And hindi naman po tatagal yung isang libo, limang libo na ayuda. So kailangan po talaga ng extra support sa mamamayan.”
In her interview with Vice President Leni Robredo on her radio program on Sunday, April 18, Non also said about her Maginhawa community pantry: “Kaya rin siya nagtuloy-tuloy kas andoon yung nangangailangan. So kung maubos siya, andun yung magre-refill.”
She added, “Hindi ako natakot na maubos kasi yung andun, meant naman para i-consume. Ang pagkain naman, ang goal niya is para kainin. Hindi naman siya display. Kung maubos po yung pantry, maganda yun kasi yun naman ang purpose.”
Non said the community pantry is charity but mutual aid. “Hindi po siya charity na nakaka-angat po yung tumutulong. Parehas pong nakakatulong yung nakakakuha at nagbibigay.”
She added her post about the Maginhawa community pantry on Facebook went viral because people related to it. “Ang tingin ko, kaya nakakarelate yung mga tao kasi literal na malapit sa sikmura,” she said.
As of Sunday, April 18, the Maginhawa community pantry has served over 3,000 individuals.
Non said the idea behind the Maginhawa community pantry is built on trust. There have been instances, she said, when people would seem to get provisions that are more than what one family would need. But she has learned to look at this with compassion and an open mind.
“Iba-iba po iyong struggle ng mga tao. Iba-iba rin iyong environment na kinalakihan po natin. Kunwari po, hindi naman natin alam, nawalan ba siya ng trabaho? Ilan po ang anak niya? O sa bahay nila baka nasanay na sila na hindi nila alam kung kailan yung next meal.” she said.
Lawmakers have said that the presence of community pastries should serve as a wake-up call of the government.
“The spread of community pantries is a scathing indictment of Duterte’s failed pandemic response and outright refusal to provide sufficient cash subsidy despite trillions in loans,” Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas said in a statement.
“We should not forget that the rise of community pantries is emblematic of how the present administration, despite the available resources, grossly failed in its obligations to help millions of our poor people cope with the ravages of the crisis,” Bayan Muna Representative Carlso Isagani Zarate said.
“We should strongly demand accountability even as we continue to support these temporary measures the best way we could to help our suffering people,” he added.
In a radio interview over the weekend, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the rise of community pantries is “a sign of desperation, that people can no longer rely on the government to help them.”
“The message behind the rise of community pantries is simple: when government is absent, we can look after each other. When the situation seems hopeless, we can lift each other’s spirit. Magtulungan, magtiwala sa isa’t-isa, at manalig sa Maykapal,” former Vice President Jejomar Binay tweeted on Sunday, April 18.
These comments have prompted the Malacanang to say that the rise of community pantries is not a condemnation of government. “This shows na bayanihan ang umiiral, hindi bangayan,” said Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque. “Tigil na po muna ang pulitika, yan po ang pakiusap natin, wag po sa panahon ngayon na may ganitong surge, bayanihan muna, wag bangayan.”
For the recently imposed enhanced community quarantine, the national government has allocated P23 billion for cash aid—specifically through the P1,000 aid allocation disbursed by the local government. However, only P4 billion has been distributed so far to the beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health said there is no reason to stop community pantries, but encouraged local government units to guide the initiative.
“Unang una, nire-recognize natin ang effort ng ating mga kababayan na talagang tutulong sila sa ating mga nangangailangan,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a briefing on Monday, April 19.
“Pero hindi kailangan namang itigil dahil sa tingin ko, malaking tulong ito both sa physical wellness and mental wellness ng ating kababayan. Yung pong nakikita nila na may handang tumulong ay malaking bagay po 'yan para sa kumpyansa at wellness nga ng taong bayan.”