Community pantries—dyslexia?

I am convinced that the policeman who first set his eyes on that community pantry in Quezon City must be afflicted with terminal dyslexia. Upon seeing a handwritten sign saying “community pantry” he read “communist party” and was alarmed at the audacity of that leftist anti-government group to set up shop on Maginhawa street, a busy spot of the Teachers’ Village where many academics of University of the Philippines live.

The pantry had two other makeshift signs in the vernacular: “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan” and “Kumuha batay sa pangangailagan”, the policeman saw red and broke out in a cold sweat. His suspicions were confirmed by the absence of President R. Duterte’s official photographs and his daughter Sara’s tarpaulins. Neither were there images of Senators Bong Go and Manny Pacquiao. The policeman made haste to report his sightings.

The Maginhawa Community Pantry was the brainchild of Ms. Ana Patricia Non, a business owner who had to close shop because of the pandemic, like thousands of others. She was worried about her employees and others who had lost their jobs. How can they bring food to the table? It was as simple but as fatal as that. She should be congratulated for such a noble project. Instead, she had to run to Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte to report that 3 policemen went to the community pantry, not to donate nor to avail of the goods, but to ask for her number and instruct her and her staff of volunteers to fill in personal information forms. Then they saw posts on social media from the “National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict” red tagging the community pantry as a front of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Later, Brig. General Leo Francisco clarified that he did not order any profiling, all his wanted was to maintain peace and order and safeguard the gains of the ECQs.

At this writing, other community pantries have mushroomed all over this Republic “from Aparri to Jolo” to steal words from that cherished hymn. Filipinos have set up similar give-and-take pantries in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, Barrio Dalandan in Valenzuela, Marikina, Sampaloc, Manila and as far south as Marawi, etc. Unfortunately, the first one on Maginhawa street will have to close momentarily because of the red-tagging issue.

Is it an indictment of the government’s response to the Covid 19 pandemic? Some people think it is while others believe it is not because in an ostensibly democratic setup like ours the government is “by the people and for the people”. Those who began the community pantries may have been inspired by those democratic principles or by Christian charity, if not both. One should not expect the government to do everything for its citizens. I think it was the late president John F. Kennedy who said:” Ask not what the country can do for you but what you can do for the country.” In that spirit, the present dispensation should not feel threatened nor upstaged by the community pantries.

There are disturbing reports of people who do not obey the sign that says take only what you need. Five burly women in a certain barangay were seen shamelessly getting everything they found on the pantry tables; others change their tee shirts to hide their identity and line up several times. Ms. Non looks upon those acts with compassion, she said that people who behave like that are so used to not knowing where their next meal will come from, so they tend to hoard. In contrast, indigent street dwellers take only what they need for the day. It is heart-warming to see that Filipinos from all walks of life are helping each other in these perilous times. “It is unity born out of necessity,” said Ms. Ana Patricia Non.

Jose Rizal’s La Liga Filipina comes to mind. The primordial objective of that association was to unite all the islands into one compact Filipino nation, as opposed to a political unit under the Spanish colonial empire. Its second objective was to make Filipinos help each other specially during times of need and emergency. Rizal had a sense of nation and that was considered subversive in those days, that was why he was banished to Dapitan after forming the Liga Filipina and later executed in Bagumbayan. I wonder if “unity born out of necessity”, as Ms. Non so incisively put it, is considered subversive under the present administration. Perhaps, that is why she is being red-tagged.

“No hay bien que por mal no venga”—is one of my favorite sayings in Spanish because its message is positive and encouraging. When translated literally it reads “there is no good thing that doesn’t come out from the bad”. The first time I heard that was in Mexico and I had to stop and think because it sounded strange. A similar saying in English could be “Every cloud has a silver lining”, but you would have to add “Every dark cloud has a silver lining”, but still, that is not quite its meaning. Anyway, “No hay bien que por mal no venga” the community pantries that are blossoming all over this country can only mean that deep inside the Filipino, there is a wellspring of good, so all is not lost.