Permit or not? Mixed messages as gov't unsure how to address community pantries

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Permit or not? Mixed messages as gov't unsure how to address community pantries
Volunteers arrange goods for the new community pantry along Matatag Street in Quezon City as its counterpart in Maginhawa Street stops operation on April 20, 2021 due to alleged "red-tagging" by the police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Government officials offered contradictory messages on the spate of community pantries set up around the country Monday. 

In separate interviews, two undersecretaries of the Department of the Interior and Local Government could not come to the same conclusion on whether or not one would need a permit to set up a communal pantry. 

"We told the barangays, don't require them to have a permit anymore. Just let it happen," Interior Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told DZMM TeleRadyo in Filipino.

But in a separate interview aired over ANC that same day, Interior Undersecretary Martin Diño said the opposite: "I think now they need a permit from the mayor or the barangay...the intentions are noble, but it might later trigger coronavirus transmission." 

Año: Coordinate with LGUs on whether permits are needed

Later Tuesday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año only added to the confusion when he said in a statement of his own that "organizers should consult with the concerned barangays if [permits] are required." 

Año, himself a member of the NTF-ELCAC, also denied the PNP was ordered to look into community pantries around the country.

"As long as the intention is good and without political color, it should be encouraged and supported," he also said. 

"The PNP and/or local officials may just come in if there is any violation of law, if there are complaints from the community, or if the organizers seek their help." 

Amid the confusion, a number of local government units, including Manila City, Quezon City, and Valenzuela City, have had to issue their own statements saying pantries would be allowed in their localities without a permit. 

Their local chief executives also vowed to protect the organizers from harassment at the hands of police and other authorities. 

This comes after Ana Patricia Non, who set up the very first community pantry along Maginhawa Street, announced that it would halt operations for the time being amid fears over the safety of her volunteers.

Community pantries popped up one after Non's pantry was set up over the weekend, but many, like Non, reported red-tagging from state forces. 

Lawmakers and progressive groups alike said these were evidence of the national government's inability to take care of its own people amid the pandemic. 

PNP denies harassment, profiling

Non's experience was not an isolated incident. Other organizers have reported being approached by cops asking for their contact details and affiliated organizations. 

Two organizers that Philstar.com reached out to refused to speak up for fear of their personal safety. Their posts alleging intimidation from police have also since been taken down. 

Yet in a separate statement sent to reporters, Police Gen. Debold Sinas, PNP chief, denied the national police ordered any profiling of community pantries. 

"We are aware of the activities of these community pantries as an expression of Bayanihan spirit, but we have no intention to interfere but to serve the best interest of law and order and public safety in such public activities," he said. 

"Police did not interfere with these activities rather extended utmost assistance to ensure orderly distribution to the needy," he also said. 

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Even the official page of the Quezon City Police District has shared content accusing pantry organizers of ties to communist rebels. 

Philstar.com has sought QCPD for comment through its public information office, but it has not responded as of this post. 

Senators condemn red-tagging

Sen. Nancy Binay in a statement scored the red-tagging of community pantries and asked why organizers of the initiative are being considered as enemies of the state.

"The enemy here is hungry, not the people who are trying to help! Are you so paranoid that even helping others is bad? What is your contribution?" she said in Filipino.

Binay said that instead of red-tagging community pantries, the government should focus on improving its own programs in helping those in need during the pandemic.

"When common people band together to help those who are in need; when volunteers offer a selfless act of serving the people; and when ordinary Filipinos put up community pantries as a pure form of generosity; I don't see them as enemies of the state, but as champions who have genuine compassion for our people," she added.

Sen. Win Gatchalian also called on the government not to politicize the pantries, which he highlighted were servicing families who were left hungry sans government aid. 

"It should not be used as a negative political weapon. Such noble efforts are better left in private hands for no politics, no color. We will lose the spirit of volunteerism, cooperation we see today, and philanthropy for our poor. compatriots," he said in Filipino. 



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