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Community pantries don’t need military ‘help’

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - April 24, 2021 - 12:00am

Like all good ideas whose time has come, the Maginhawa community pantry in Quezon City has been replicating everywhere, not only in Metro Manila but in many areas of Luzon and the Visayas. Despite the threat of red-tagging and red tape, we can reasonably expect the grassroots organizers and volunteers to sustain their initiative, seeing the massive support of their respective communities and beyond.

From all sides, brickbats have been hurled at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in defense of the young woman who innocently put up the community pantry in her neighborhood. Ana Patricia Non had nothing to hide, acknowledging that she was an activist while studying at UP Diliman, while strongly denying the NTF-ELCAC accusation that exchanging food items had anything to do with the communist armed movement. NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. even equated her to Satan handing an apple to Eve in the biblical account on Eden. Such preposterous comments caused even more derisive laughter from the public.

Some people have remarked that maybe the dogs began to bark upon learning that Ana Patricia had posted the following slogan among the onions and sardine cans that had been set out on the sidewalk: “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan (Give according to your ability, take according to your need).” Had she been inspired to formulate her own version of how Marxist thinkers would like to portray a future society where citizens give freely and take freely?

For instance, Renato Galang of Magalang, Pampanga posted on Facebook his take on the initiative: “[It is] a form of mutual aid. It is about discipline, generosity, responsibility and, most importantly, honesty. They don’t get mad at you even whenever they see that the table has gone empty. Just like us, they are also surprised by the coming of supplies from different donors.”

I was touched by a report in the Inquirer yesterday, about the community pantry that had also been set up by Apung Trining, in the peaceful village of Sta. Monica in Sta. Rita, Pampanga where I myself was born. Apung Trining is my relative, 92 years old, and mother of the cultural activist and theater artist Andy Alviz. The other day, according to my cousin Andy, a tricycle driver stopped in front of the pantry and handed him P1,500 as his contribution, then sped off without giving his name.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., NTF-ELCAC vice chairperson, has been trying ineffectually to swat off the strong reactions to – in fact, denunciations of – Parlade’s reckless and irresponsible statements. “Nothing is conclusive yet,” he said in an online forum, claiming that the task force is “not investigating [the community pantries]… just looking into the organizers, if they advertise their organization that would be traced to the legal fronts of the CPP-NPA.”

“Advertising that the government is inept and incapable, that is wrong,” he added, reflecting President Duterte’s oversensitivity to such criticism. He didn’t say what action would be taken against those (and there have been many) who have called the government inept, particularly on handling issues like the COVID-19 pandemic response and China’s incursions in Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.

Esperon’s statement means the NTF-ELCAC will continue “looking into” the emergence of more and more community pantries around the country.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, also an NTF-ELCAC key figure along with Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, gave an assurance of the defense department’s support and assistance:

“Kindness is everyone’s color. Whatever your belief, as long as the help you’re giving is from the heart, we will support that… We are ready to assist if requested by local government units and the (DILG),” he added, “and if necessary, to deploy the AFP Mobile Kitchens where they are needed.”

Picking up from Lorenzana’s statement, AFP chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said he had directed the AFP deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations to order all armed forces units to support community pantries and similar efforts. Quick to obey the directive, the AFP Civil Relations Service showed up last Thursday at the Matatag Street community pantry in Brgy Central, Quezon City, with sacks of farm produce as donation.

Moreover, Gen. Sobejana said the AFP is looking for funds to sustain its support to the community pantries and plans to convince AFP soldiers “to donate one day of our subsistence allowance…to accumulate a substantial amount” for the purpose.

Will the military’s “help” be welcomed by the organizers, volunteers, donors and supporters of the community pantries?  I guess no.

Predictably, NTF-ELCAC will continue to poke into and harass these civilians who are only trying to help each other after realizing that no amount of talk about  government “ayuda” will put actual food on their tables.

Despite the demand from the Senate to remove Parlade from the NTF-ELCAC, and of late the declared intent of at least six senators to defund the task force and realign its P19.1-billion budget to “ayuda” for the poorest people suffering under the pandemic, Malacañang has rejected both proposals. Parlade even brags he has been reappointed as NTF-ELCAC spokesperson and had the gall to mock the senators for being“stupid” if they defund the task force, since they were the ones who approved its budget.

Of course it’s understandable that Parlade has been retained. He really delivers the message, and in the President’s language.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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