The Duterte Cabinet has been sending mixed signals about community pantries.
Starting with one makeshift stall in Quezon City where ordinary citizens can receive or donate foodstuff such as vegetables, canned goods, instant noodles and the like, the movement has spread like wildfire throughout the country.
For the poor and/or the unemployed, the community pantries are like manna from heaven. They became lifelines for thousands of families after the delayed release in the financial assistance promised by the national government.
Some government officials praised the pantries as an example of the bayanihan spirit when Filipinos help fellow Filipinos in need.
Other officials, however, see the public donations as an insidious communist plot, intended to show the government in a bad light.
Two undersecretaries, Martin Dino of Local Governments and Lorraine Badoy of the Presidential Communications Office, put a damper on the voluntary activity, with the former saying that permission was needed to operate the stalls and the latter saying that it seemed like a typical communist strategy.
Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, however, gave their thumbs up to the effort, with the former saying that “as long as the desire to help is sincere, we will support it.”
Malacañang put the issue to rest after Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte approved of the community pantries.
Most local government units said there was no need to get any kind of permit as taking part in donations was a voluntary act.
Quezon City provided a possible compromise by stating last April 23 that, while no permit was necessary, community pantry organizers were “strongly encouraged” to submit written notice with barangay officials. The organizers were also asked to identify a point person responsible for the pantry.
One barangay captain was roundly condemned in social media for insisting he had authority to oversee the pantry in his community. He was dismissed as an overreaching politician trying to make a name for himself and leveraging toward a higher position in next year’s elections.
The public response has been overwhelming, with hundreds of community pantries appearing throughout the archipelago. In most cases, residents of communities simply set up tables in sidewalks where donated foods can be picked up by anyone.
So far, there has only been one case where a resident picked up more than her fair share, by grabbing two trays of fresh eggs – about four dozen – and running off with her loot.
Pictures of the woman identified as Maricar Adriano hurriedly leaving the community pantry went viral, and she was forced to defend herself by saying that she had never received any financial or food help from the government. She also said that it was her intention to share the eggs with her neighbors.
There was also a tragedy involving a community pantry that popular actress Angel Locsin set up in her neighborhood during her birthday last week.
Thousands went to the site, with some only wanting to get a glimpse of the actress who has earned a reputation for being a philanthropist during times of crisis.
A 67-year-old resident of her community collapsed while waiting in line and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital where he was taken.
Locsin said she would pay for his funeral.
When Badoy suggested that organizers such as Locsin and Ana Patricia Non – considered as the mother of the community pantry — were legally liable for receiving and then dispensing hundreds of thousands of pesos worth of donations, lawyer after lawyer took to social media to tell the undersecretary that the actress and the prime organizer had committed no crime by their actions.
Most heartwarming have been case after case of poor Filipinos donating what goods they can whenever they pick up produce for their families.
A taho vendor and an ice cream vendor were seen giving away their products before taking anything, although it was made clear to them that there was no quid pro quo arrangement.
Another vendor said he would give away one turon for every piece he sold. A fish vendor did the same thing, donating one kilo of fish for every kilo he sold.
Even the Armed Forces of the Philippines joined the fray, with soldiers putting up a pantry along Santolan Road, outside their Camp Aguinaldo headquarters.
The global response was mostly favorable, with citizens of Timor Leste emulating their Filipino counterparts by setting up their own community pantries.
The Vatican as well as the Federal Republic of Germany also praised the grassroots effort of Filipinos.