Everything was fine with the Maginhawa Community Pantry in its first few days, until yesterday, 19 April, when cops kept asking for its organizer’s phone number.
A Facebook post also linked the activity to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
“We had no problem with police officers who’ve been visiting the site. We even gave them food. All we asked was that they don’t bring their rifles ’cause the people were scared,” organizer Ana Patricia B. Non said in a mix of Filipino and English, answering questions from Daily Tribune in a Zoom media conference on 20 April.
However, Non — or Patreng to family and friends — revealed that she smelled something fishy when the cops pestered her for contact details, which she said she had already given them.
Her phone number could be found on her social media account which could be publicly accessed.
What made it worse was when she saw a Facebook post from the Quezon City Police District sharing propaganda material that accused certain organizations of using the Maginhawa Community Party to benefit the “CPP-NPA-NDF” (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front).
The Maginhawa Community Pantry began on 13 April when Non took a bamboo cart out on Maginhawa Street in Teachers Village, Quezon City, and filled it with vegetables, fruits, canned goods, and rice for the poor. They were invited to take some home for free. Donations were also welcomed.
It has since inspired other communities to put up their own makeshift pantries. Facebook posts announced the sprouting of dozens upon dozens of pantries across the country.
Response to failure
Observers noted that the pantries were a response to the government’s failure to extend sufficient aid to Filipinos reeling from hunger amid the onslaught of Covid-19.
Non took screenshots of the red-baiting posts and shared them in her own Facebook page, with a message informing the public that the food distribution on Maginhawa Street was temporarily “paused” for the safety of volunteers.
She blamed “#RedTagging” for her decision to “pause” operations.
“I feel bad because I had good intentions when I started the #CommunityPantry which has served many people these past several days and which has also drawn much support from the public,” she said.
“For sure many people will line up again the next day, but we have to wait for now… Especially since other Community Pantries have been having problems with the police,” she added.
At the video conference, Non said Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte informed her that the incident is now being looked into.
Police Chief Debold Sinas has denied the involvement of the Quezon City Police in the allegations.
Non said that she believed her spontaneous project had achieved “the unity that we’ve been hoping for as a country.”
She narrated that quarreling relatives, rival corporations, different churches, among other contending parties came and talked to her about the beauty of the community pantry.
She said: “All social classes, including the wealthy, came together to feed the hungry. Even owners of restaurants along Maginhawa Street that have closed due to the pandemic helped. The general sentiment was of gratitude: Our hopes were rekindled”.
She has a message to detractors: “Come and visit us, talk to the people lining up for food and learn from their stories. This is unity in action, don’t destroy it.”