Best of the Filipino

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2021 - 12:00am

Even the Palace spokesman said yesterday the initiative “showcases the best of the Filipino in the worst of times.”

As far as we can tell, however, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is standing firm on its belief that the community pantries that have blossomed across the country are the handiwork of Satan himself.

The NTF-ELCAC’s spokesman, Army Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, told “The Chiefs” on One News last Tuesday night that the organizer of the first community pantry along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, Ana Patricia Non, is like Satan tempting Eve with an apple.

At the same time, the NTF-ELCAC posted on social media information on Non to explain why the task force believes she has links to communist rebels, and why it believes this underpins her widely replicated project.

Non, who faced The Chiefs Wednesday night, said information on her activist days as a student council member in the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts is available on Facebook.

“There are no secrets there, there are no surprises,” she said in Filipino. “I am not guilty. I am not hiding anything.”

As part of her student activism, she said she pushed for ideas such as education as a right; art for the masses, not just art for art’s sake, and environmental protection. Her sorority conducted art workshops for street children and cancer survivors.

She said she went with UP student council members to the areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda about six months after the disaster struck, to find out how they could help.

One thing she denies, however, is knowing a certain “Ka Shane,” who has surfaced on social media to claim that Non belonged to a communist collective.

“It’s funny. I don’t want to take it seriously… It’s a very desperate move,” she said. On social media, she posted in Filipino: “I don’t know you, sister.”

*      *      *

The accusations of communist links, however, and the repeated questioning by rifle-toting policemen about her address, contact number, group affiliation and even boyfriend prompted Non to suspend the community pantry along Maginhawa for a day.

Even if she might have toyed with the idea of communism in her college days, however, which UP student doesn’t? As far as I know, communism – like many other ideologies – is openly discussed in classes on philosophy and social and political thought at the state university. Students may attend communist teach-ins or “immersions” in the countryside simply out of curiosity, as part of their values formation and assessment of different ideas on their way to full adulthood.

The only time a person who thinks communism is a good idea (which does not automatically mean the person is a communist rebel) may run afoul of the law is if the person takes up arms to overthrow our democratic government, no matter how dysfunctional it may be.

Under our new anti-terrorism law, that armed insurgent can be branded a terrorist. So can those who support armed struggle through financial contributions and other forms of assistance.

Does Ana Patricia Non fall under any of those categories?

*      *      *

She said all the suffering arising from the pandemic was her main inspiration for setting up the first community pantry – a move she described as “spontaneous talaga.”

And she was pleasantly surprised that so many other community pantries were quickly set up across the country.

A secret motive? Non told The Chiefs, tongue in cheek, that another reason she launched the pantry was that she had accumulated quite a pile of canned goods throughout the lockdown and she wanted to declutter her home: “Gusto ko lumuwag yung bahay namin, kasi ipon po ako nang ipon ng mga de lata simula noong lockdown.”

She has had her share of skeptics – people outside the NTF-ELCAC who suspect her motives. Non says she herself could not believe what has happened, and she sometimes wonders what she has gotten herself into: “Ako rin po nahirapan din ako maniwala eh. Ano ba itong pinasok ko?”

Non concedes that certain groups might use the community pantries to advance their own agendas, as Parlade has warned. But the Maginhawa project is not that kind of pantry, she insists.

Before people pass final judgment, Non is urging them to try volunteering in any community pantry, to see the sincerity behind the initiative, and the response of people genuinely in need.

At least four senators believe her good intentions more than the suspicions of the NTF-ELCAC. Yesterday the senators proposed to cut the P19-billion funding of the task force for this year.

Parlade of course opposed this, saying that since he’s the one getting the flak, the task force should not suffer for it. He can rest easy. Malacañang, not surprisingly, said there was no reason to cut off funding, and several other senators defended the mandate of the task force.

*      *      *

How to pursue that mandate has always been tricky for the NTF-ELCAC. A country cannot afford to have an armed insurgency, and the government must cut off all forms of support to any group that espouses armed violence as a means to an end.

Insurgencies, however, thrive on social injustice and desperate need. The Marcos dictatorship was the best recruiter for the communist party. And there’s been a lot of social injustice in the current administration, now aggravated by the suffering from the unprecedented COVID pandemic.

“Our number one concern is food,” Non told The Chiefs. “My only objective is to help.”

Parlade, for his part, stresses that “it’s our job to inform the people.” He has promised to explain to the people the reason for the reaction of the NTF-ELCAC to Non and the community pantries.

For now, the increasing number of people setting up and contributing to community pantries across the country, as well as the long lines of people availing themselves of the free food, show that the pantries are answering a basic need in this public health crisis.

Best of all, epal politicians have no place in the bayanihan initiative.

“I know there’s a natural good in people,” Non said.

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