Community pantry and Duterte’s kitchen

A UP professor friend sent me a photo of a burly band of youngish males, properly protected with surgical masks and face shields posing in front of the Maginhawa community pantry after depositing donations in kind. They were wearing tees of various colors and designs, with a single blaring message —Sara Duterte.  On the heels of Angel Locsin’s birthday party, here come the politicians. Oh, no!

Anonymity is the unwritten law of community pantries. We all know who Ms. Ana Patricia Non is because she was the first to lay out a “community pantry”, on Maginhawa street in Quezon City.   Ms. Noon’s patriotic generosity has set our hearts alight and inspired others to set up similar community pantries all over the country.  Donations have poured in, but none of the kind souls who gave what they could spare have bothered to identify themselves. The needy have come in droves to get only what they need for a day or two from   the mounds of rice, baskets of fresh vegetables and fruits, boxes of tinned goods and other basic necessities.  Daily, people line up, queues are kilometric. Volunteers, also nameless, are donating their time and energy.   Magnanimous entrepreneurs,  unidentified, have gone out of their way to farming communities purchasing produce that would never have reached the market. Community pantries are not electoral machineries, you do not have to sell your present and future for a free meal, you can get free food with dignity intact.

For those who refuse to be anonymous donors and are raring to transform the community pantries into electoral devices, may I bring to your attention   Duterte’s Kitchen? I cannot put my finger on what went wrong, this well-meaning project seems to have been signally neglected by its coordinators.

Shortly after he was elected in 2016, President Rodrigo  Duterte opened a kitchen in Cubao, with the motto “Wala nang matutulog na gutom” (No one will go to bed hungry). His pictures decorated the walls and it had an enticing menu of lugaw with assorted toppings, arroz caldo, champurrado and on Saturdays, spaghetti. The kitchen catered to street children or to whoever needed a free meal.  However, in July 2018, according to news reports, Duterte’s kitchen in Cubao moved to Manresa, Quezon city. The same report said it   was “spreading like wildfire” in other parts of the country.

In Sual, Pangasinan, a Duterte’s Kitchen was set up, with the same presidential images and menu, to benefit elementary school children in the thousands.   A local women’s group, UNA KA, volunteered their services as cooks in the spirit of “bayanihan” and volunteerism. Another Duterte kitchen opened in Barangay Labogon,  Mandaue. Cebu.  There were many names attached to every Duterte Kitchen that opened its doors: Local government officials, Cabinet secretaries, all manner of civic associations   jostled to identify themselves with the President’s kitchen. After all, it was the high-profile project of his Social Services and Economic Development Program. At the launch in Cebu, the PDP provincial president and an undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were conspicuously present.

A Duterte Kitchen opened in Cagayan de Oro (Feb. 2017); its organizers also announced plans to include livelihood training. A year after the Mayor and Vice Mayor of Lucena city inaugurated their own Duterte Kitchen in cooperation with the PDP-Laban political party.

Curiously the “wild fire” earlier reported has turned out to be “ningas cogon” (grass fire). The Covid pandemic has been raging for more than a year now, but I have not come across earth-shaking news about the President’s kitchens. That is why I am convinced that his daughter Sara, who plans to succeed him, should focus her attention on those kitchens instead of sending her minions to the community pantries, wearing electoral propaganda.

Furthermore, in lieu of red-tagging Ms. Non and the community pantry donors, I humbly propose that Lt.Gen. Antonio Parlade of the   National Task Force- to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)    train his sights on the Duterte Kitchens to make sure these are fulfilling their mandate. After all   the Duterte Kitchen and the community pantry are not polar opposites, they both want to help Filipinos in times of dire need.