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[OPINION] Community pantries are proof of the Filipinos' self-respect

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Apr 17, 2021 10:05 am

I woke up today to the lines, “Leaders who, in a time of crisis, fail in urgency has only insurgency to face.”

These lines could scarcely have been more predictable in a country like ours if we were not beset by political and social tremors, of memories of buffoons holding office, and of a long-standing canker where national memory boasts of the lifespan of a mayfly, which is roughly five minutes.

But we’ve been robbed, raped and systematically retrofitted with numerous fears and doubts that this once hospitable planet of islanders now brags of the longest-running communist insurgency this side of the Marx-Trotsky divide.

And why not, some people ask? When you have imperialists on the one side and fascists on the other, blowing more than enough hot air to cook a dozen eggs in mid-fall, what other options are left available?

Well, one can rant and whine endlessly over social media, decrying mediocrity, misogyny and socioeconomic malignancy by displaying the sort of misanthropy specially designed for a 280-character Twitter post. Others, with hardly any choice but to stay alive, choose rather the path of least resistance by cloaking their seething discontent behind the sweet-salty smell of kitchen smog.

 

Photo courtesy of Philippine STAR

The pandemic has all but bypassed our dreams and aspirations ‘round which we’ve built our lives prior to the arrival of the virus. This leaves us with practically nothing to go on, save perhaps the chance to reimagine our future and whatever it was we wanted to be.

In many ways this is a step towards the right direction, but one plagued with horrors and uncertainties much too terrifying for people who shun change.

And then, lo and behold, you wake up one Red Letter Day to the sound of hope: a community pantry where people from all walks of life can either treat themselves to free goods or treat others to the same. The rule is simple: take only what you need, share only what you can. All for free.

In no time, the idea caught on: farmers sharing excess crops to street pantries sprouting everywhere.

What we ordinary Filipinos lack in privilege we make up for courage. To give from out of our overabundance is liberality; but to give out of poverty is valor.

Photo courtesy of Philippine STAR

You might think this a novel idea which has come of age, more so in a pandemic, but I remember my sweet grandmother telling me how this country survived numerous catastrophes by being generous to their neighbors.

 “Food is of no consequence,” she told me once while joining her in the kitchen. “During the war, we shared food with our neighbors. Filipinos have always been generous with what’s on their table regardless of their poverty. There was scarcely any food left, to be honest. Yet people giving out of their lack is always something to marvel at.”

This snapshot into our history as a people often torn apart by colonialist greed taught me a couple of things. One, that what we ordinary Filipinos lack in privilege we make up for courage. To give from out of our overabundance is liberality; but to give out of poverty is valor. Daring. The sort of mettle that defies all other considerations.

This is Basic Humanity 101. Call it compassion. Call it empathy. I call it character, one honed by calamity and modest triumphs. It’s in our DNA.

Photo courtesy of Philippine STAR

The other is that deep down where the rubber meets the road, we still believe in the value of human dignity. To raise and uphold that same dignity even as all the forces of tragedy seem to bear down on it and seek to tear it apart.

This goes way past resilience. This is Basic Humanity 101. Call it compassion. Call it empathy. I call it character, one honed by calamity and modest triumphs. It’s in our DNA. 

Naturally, when I say “us,” I am not referring to Filipinos or the public as a homogenous whole. Clearly there are exceptions. But I have seen more kindnesses in Filipinos in all my 57 years than its nauseating opposite.

As they say in social media vernacular, “Faith in humanity restored.”  

Not an exaggeration at all, at least, not in the way exaggerations play on our perception. In fact, this show of empathy by Filipinos comes so naturally, so effortlessly, that all attempts by the powers that be, in its final turn of the screw, leaves government’s greed and incompetence all the more exposed.

More than a simple social experiment, the community pantries are proof of the Filipinos’ self-respect. Proof, too, that there is no faking our birthright.

Which is, hospitality.