Barangay officials, however, said it was all “miscommunication.”
While community pantries were set up to be of aid through offering donated goods to residents, barangay officials of Batong Malake, Los Baños, Laguna saw it as another way of spreading COVID-19 faster. Its chairman went as far as to allegedly intimidate against those who initiated the charitable activity.
In a Twitter thread created last April 18 by pantry organizer Zeleeka Gonzales, she said that Barangay Chairman Ian Kalaw reprimanded her and her family – who set up one of the many pantries in Batong Malake – after a long line of residents crowded before the goods stand.
“[Noong Sabado], abot hanggang UP Gate ang pila. Kaya [last Sunday], maaga silang [barangay officials] nagpunta. Gusto nila ipatigil dahil hindi raw nila kaya kontrolin ang mga tao,” she wrote in a statement with the Perspective.
Narrating the incident, Gonzales told the publication that her family had to stop operating for a few minutes to fix the line last Sunday, in order to conform to the authorities’ orders. It was only after the line was already orderly that they continued handing out the donations.
“Kaya sila [barangay chairman and tanods] nagagalit sa amin, ang sinasabi nila ay kasi hindi nila makontrol. Nagsalita pa po ‘yan si kapitan na parang, ‘O sige, kayo kumontrol,’ kasi ayaw po naming itigil [ang pagsasagawa ng community pantry]. Sabi namin, itutuloy namin [nung Sunday] kasi nga naka-pack na kami, at ang dami na pong nakapila,” Gonzales explained.
Despite the great multitude of residents that gathered in a line before the pantry, Gonzales alleged that the officials barely helped in controlling the crowd. She even said that the tanods left the vicinity even before the line was cleared.
It was when her family was repacking last Sunday afternoon that the commotion happened with the barangay tanods.
“Nagre-repack po kami do’n [sa may community pantry], and then, yung tita ko po ay lumabas siya – mamimigay sana siya ng gloves doon sa mga nagbabantay na tanod,” she said, explaining that it is during that time when they came face to face with Chairman Kalaw, who made accusations against their charitable work.
According to Gonzales, the chairman accused her and her family of “profiting” from the community pantry.
“Habang kausap nung kapitan ang tita ko, sinabihan niya ng [verbatim], ‘Ang gusto niyo kasi kumita kayo dito,’ at nagpapabango raw kami ng pangalan kaya namin ‘to ginagawa,” Gonzales wrote in her tweet.
Contrary to the chairman’s claims, Gonzales said that her family’s only purpose – similar to that of other community pantry organizers – is to be of help to residents in and near their community.
“Sobrang kapal [ng mukha] ng kapitan ng Brgy. Batong Malake para pagbintangan pamilya ko na may kinikita kami sa Elbi community pantry […] Wala kahit pisong napunta sa bulsa ng pamilya ko. [Ang] nanay ko gumising [nang] maaga para mamalengke, nagre-repack kami as a family, at namimigay [ng donations],” she wrote further.
Gonzales also wrote that during the first day of their charitable activity, barangay officials of Batong Malake wanted to relocate the community pantry just outside the barangay hall.
“If truth be told, nakakapalan po talaga kami [sa opisyal] kasi grabe po yung pulitika,” she told Perspective.
Gonzales explained that the perceived failure of the local government in handing out enough assistance to residents motivated their family to launch the pantry.
“Marami pong hindi nabigyan ng ayuda. Yung iba, pinapapila, pero hindi naman naaabutan sa dulo,” she explained.
Gonzales claimed that there is at least one other community pantry in Batong Malake. The other, which was set up by a businesswoman who wished to remain anonymous for this article, was also unable to escape from being reprimanded by the barangay officials.
Gonzales added, “Sinabihan pa po siya ng masasakit na salita. Sinabihan pa siya ng kapitan na, ‘Gusto mo ikaw na lang mamatay, ‘wag ka nang mandamay na magka-COVID yung ibang tao.”
Despite this, the businesswoman continued operating the community pantry. Gonzales also said in a follow-up statement that the said businesswoman even goes house-to-house at night just to deliver donations.
Brought by the aforementioned businesswoman’s fear of having her livelihood affected by the issue, Gonzales said that the former had chosen to discontinue her own version of a community pantry. All donations that she will still receive would then be dropped off at Gonzales’ residence.
Meanwhile, in a Facebook video released by Chairman Kalaw last April 19, he expressed gratitude to all residents who offered help to Brgy. Batong Malake. Despite Gonzales’ statement of inadequate aid being distributed to residents in the barangay, Chairman Kalaw claimed that they have given enough aid, going as far as to saying that they “turned night into day” just so they can be able to properly extend help to the residents.
Regarding the organizing of community pantries, Chairman Kalaw then reminded residents of health safety protocols and proper social distancing, noting the high number of COVID-19 cases in their barangay. The latter Kalaw himself described as being a “hotspot” for positive cases.
Indirectly addressing the commotion last Sunday, he said, “Itong tinatawag na community pantry – magandang-maganda po ito. Nagkaroon lang po ng kaunting miscommunication. Hindi po kami napagbigyang-kaalaman sa pangyayaring ito. Ang aking hangarin lang po dito ay maiayos ang mga ito [community pantry], at ipagbawal ang tinatawag nating mass gathering.”
Meanwhile, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs Martin Diño said last April 20 that community organizers must interact with barangay officials, so that they can enforce proper health and safety protocols.
This was after he initially said that local authorities would be requiring permits from organizers – a statement that he retracted and “cleared” not long after.
More ‘pantry poopers’
Residents of Brgy. Batong Malake who initiated their own version of the community pantry are far from being the only ones reprimanded by the state. In different parts of the country, community pantry organizers experienced harassment from state forces.
In a Facebook post last April 19, Patricia Non, known to have initiated the Maginhawa community pantry in Quezon City, said that she will discontinue its operation after she was red-tagged by police and even the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The pantry from the said community in Quezon City initially inspired other pantries that surfaced all over the Philippines.
“Magbigat sa pakiramdam ko kasi maganda po ang intentions ko noong binuo ko ang #CommunityPantry at ilang araw na din po na napakaraming pinagsisilbihan nito at ganun din po ang tulong na dumarating,” she wrote, adding that three policemen took her phone number, and even asked what organizations she was involved in.
Non expressed her fear in walking to her set up community pantry, after the allegations that were thrown at her by state forces.
Meanwhile, about midnight of April 19, policemen reportedly visited the house of another Quezon City-based community pantry organizer named Angeline Mendoza. According to the organizer, the civilian-clothed police and some barangay tanods asked for her personal information, for what they said was “validation” of the organizers’ profiles.
“Talagang kinatok pa kami para alamin kung sinu-sino ang mga tao na nandito… Gusto pa nga mangyari [ay] ibigay namin ang pangalan ng nakatira dito sa opisina,” said Mendoza, who also mentioned that her house served as the office of urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY).
In the midst of these cases, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr. admitted that they are checking the background of community pantry organizers.
A Facebook photo shared by NTF-ELCAC tagged Tulong Kabataan Network, who initiated a community pantry, as an organization created by Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). NTF-ELCAC claimed that such an organization only wishes to take the funds of the people and recruit the youth to armed conflict.
Then, in a separate shared Facebook post, NTF-ELCAC accused community pantry organizers as propagandists of a massive NPA recruitment.
‘From the masses, to the masses’
The sprout of over 120 community pantries all over the country was seen by numerous citizens not as a propaganda movement for armed conflict, but as a manifestation of poor government response, with the burden of aid-giving taken by the masses upon their shoulders.
“Pagod na akong magreklamo. Pagod na ako sa inaction,” said Non in an interview with Rappler.
The pantry’s principle: a Biblically-referenced phrase popularized by Karl Marx in 1875, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” It can now be seen inscribed – in Filipino – on top of carts containing various basic necessities, including food such as vegetables and canned goods, as well as hygiene products such as alcohol and face masks.
Honest to its essence, Gonzales said that the goods in the community pantry that they established in Los Baños initially just came from their own personal donations, but it was not long before they were flooded by goods and financial aids from other residents who are willing to be of help to the masses.
Last April 19, a UPLB community pantry had also already been established in front of UPLB Housing Office.
Among other parts of Southern Tagalog, Balayan, Batangas also saw its own community pantry, which was organized by Panday Sining Batangas, a progressive cultural arm based in the province.
Written on fliers handed out by the organizers is the phrase, “Mula sa masa, tungo sa masa,” reminding residents that all supplies in the pantry are for free.
According to “Deng” [not her real name], one of the organizers in Balayan, Batangas, they first initiated in gathering supplies as well as scouting for the pantry’s possible locations, all the while tapping members for the voluntary work. She said that all the involved residents were guided by the community pantry’s original principle, and that many were willing to donate to the project.
“Nung pinaliwanag namin yung ‘pagkuha ayon sa pangangailangan at yung pagbigay ayon sa kakayahan,’ ang community members na mismo ang nagmungkahi na magkaroon ng donation box! Do’n sila naghulog ng mga perang kaya nila [na ibigay],” Deng said.
She added that it is the residents themselves who initiated in posting a sign reminding people to limit the amount of supplies that they will take, such that there will still be enough for others in need.
According to Gonzales, despite the series of red-tagging against community pantry organizers and the incident that happened with barangay officials, her family will still continue the community pantry, citing that there are still numerous donations that are being dropped off in their residence.
“We’ll continue the pantry as long as may nagpapasa ng donations,” Gonzales assured. [P]
Photo/s from Zeleeka Gonzales