Coincidence or curse?

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

I don’t mean to get mystical or weird but I noticed that the people who have in one way or another been critical or trashed-talked community pantries have ended up getting trashed or in trouble. I can think of at least four individuals who openly criticized the organizers or the concept itself and three of them have been censured, gagged or pushed into a corner. The fourth and latest of them now finds herself attacked on social media as another politician jumping on the bandwagon and has been bashed by netizens.

The reason I got to thinking of curses is because most people only get a backlash on Facebook but the four individuals have ended up reaping the whirlwind from the public, from elected officials and/or their bosses. One has resigned while the other two are being asked to resign.

I’m sure that a few more government officials are tempted to comment if not criticize how community pantries have been conducted or should be conducted. I would caution them to remember the word Karma and the advice: “If you are not part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem.”

I recently watched a DILG official talk about their concerns regarding mass gatherings and COVID infections and on the surface I shared his concern. But while he was expressing his observations, it occurred to me that instead of having a regulatory mindset, government officials should begin by opening their eyes, recognizing the problem and coming up with a similar or even better idea. They are too busy with rules and regulations that they remind me of what Jesus Christ said in Mathew 13:13: “Because they seeing - see not; and hearing - they hear not, neither do they understand.”

So what is there to see: the multitudes of the poor, hungry and desperate Filipinos who risk life and limb, defy curfew restrictions, the burning sun and the odds of getting enough food at every attempt to line up at a community pantry. Kilometer-long lines of the young, the old, even the sick, women and children, jobless men hoping to get food. In that sea of desperate poor, the odd spectacles of street vendors, the mag-tataho, the suman maker and like sharing their morsels and few pieces in spite of their own uncertain situations. Filipinos helping Filipinos. The government is nowhere in the act of giving, only in regulating human traffic and strict enforcement of curfew rules and health protocols.

Government officials who watch the news are probably “hearing” what those thousands of Filipinos are saying; their tales of poverty, joblessness, sorrow and hunger. “But hearing they do not hear” because they are focused on rules and regulations. People must follow this or that rule set by this or that government body, agency or official. I have time and again lectured my students in government to “listen to what the public – your customers – want, instead of what you think they need. Address a need and you solve a problem.”

The problem here is that the government officials concerned don’t understand the problem. The problem is not vaccine or health protocols, the problem is hunger and poverty: REAL HUNGER AND POVERTY! The minimum wage in Metro Manila is barely enough to support a family and cover utilities and expenses required when going to work. But when you don’t have a job, can’t earn money because there are no buyers for your turon, ice buko or gulay on the sidewalk and very few passengers for your tricycle, how in heaven’s name are you supposed to survive under the world’s longest and strictest recurring community quarantine measures?

The problem at the end of the day are the officials themselves. They are not the solution but they cause and thereby create the problem.

If government officials opened their eyes they will realize that both the problem and the solution can be found within the environment of the community pantries. People need food and supplies desperately and that need is partially, momentarily being met by nameless citizens who have shown their willingness to share from their own lack or their wealth. There were no business models to follow or franchise to apply, many of these generous givers have been nameless except for a few made controversial or scandalized by government officials. These home-based community do-gooders are a mere handful.

What if our government officials started thinking out of the box and started setting up “soup kitchens” managed by the DOT and stakeholders, alongside “pick your own vegetable and fresh produce” courtesy of the DA and farmers, maybe if we get the ball rolling we can even convince all the Plantitos and Plantitas to plant vegetables to give away instead of spending money on a garden for one. The DOH can throw in a quick health check up and some medicines courtesy of all the pharmaceutical companies, both local and international. They could even throw in random testing for COVID-19 or vaccination against flu and pneumonia. etc. etc.

Crazy? No, it’s not crazy because if a simple mag-tataho can donate several cups of his products for free, if private citizens are willing to spend their money to help others and undertake the organization and daily operation of a community pantry, why would it be crazy for the Philippine government to do likewise? The Philippine government would be a giant compared to all the little people who’ve been trying to do their part to help the poor and the desperate.

If you are still not convinced, try searching the internet on how South Koreans sacrificially donated their personal belongings to help rebuild their country. I believe the Japanese did something similar. Perhaps NOW is our time to rebuild our nation and ourselves. By God’s grace we can!

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