EDITORIAL - Vegetables as security threat

EDITORIAL - Vegetables as security threat

(The Philippine Star) - April 21, 2021 - 12:00am

It has been a welcome breath of fresh air in this crisis: people contributing what they can in vegetables and other food items, and others taking just what they need, in a community pantry. Unfortunately, just as the initiative, replicated in many parts of the country, was being lauded for showcasing the “bayanihan” spirit among Filipinos, the original community pantry organizer announced yesterday that her project would be suspended.

The reason: Ann Patricia Non, who initiated the first community pantry along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, posted on social media yesterday that she feared for her safety after three policemen arrived and asked for her contact number and the organization with which she might be affiliated. Along Matatag Street also in Quezon City, barangay officials reportedly ordered a stop to the operations of another community pantry.

In Pandacan, Manila, police reportedly ordered pantry volunteers to fill out forms detailing personal information and their organizations. This prompted a warning from privacy commissioner Raymund Liboro about the legitimate processes for collection of personal data from citizens.

Amid the resulting uproar, Philippine National Police chief Gen. Debold Sinas denied ordering the profiling of organizers of community pantries. He issued the statement even as social media posts attributed to PNP members warned the public against being used by communist rebels using the community pantries. But Sinas declared in a statement: “It is beyond the interest of the PNP to delve into purely voluntary personal activities of private citizens.” He said the only concern of the PNP is adherence to COVID health protocols, particularly physical distancing and mask wearing.

Supporters of the initiative are looking at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as the group behind the red-tagging of Non and the others behind community pantries.

Administration officials have brushed aside observations that the spread of the community pantries was an indictment of the government’s pandemic response. Instead the government has lauded the initiative and says it highlights the importance of people working together to heal as one. The actions of those policemen tend to belie this praise. Sen. Nancy Binay expressed the sentiments of the dismayed public: “Ang kalaban ay gutom, hindi ang tumutulong.” The enemy is hunger, not those who are trying to help.

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