Pantry statement

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - April 20, 2021 - 12:00am

When the Enhanced Community Quarantine was implemented in Cebu early last year, there emerged a barter community in the city that operated using social media. Gadgets were exchanged for grocery items, home-baked goodies for garden plants, and old household appliances for bicycles.

One Cebu-based social media group even reached over 244,000 members. It was not surprising because barter was an activity that benefitted many people as they faced demand and supply constraints due to the sudden economic slowdown.

The dampener, though, was the reminder from the government that bartering of goods is illegal except in certain areas in Jolo, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez later clarified that “exchanges of goods for personal transactions, not as business,” is still allowed.

Recently in Metro Manila, a new innovative way of coping with the crisis has emerged: the community pantry. The idea behind it is laudable: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

This prompted one netizen to throw a punchline to government: “Ser, uunahan ko na po kayo. Hindi po yan Communist Party, Community Pantry po yan.” A lawyer friend of mine, Maria Sol Taule, added her wits to the conversation. On Twitter, @soltaule wrote: “Walang tarps, walang pangalan ng mga pulitiko, walang red tape, walang epal, walang photo op bago mamigay. Yes pwedeng ganito.”

The street in Quezon City where it all started is familiar to me. Back when I was studying in Manila, I lived in a boarding house along Maginhawa Street in a middle-class community called Teacher’s Village. The community has an independent and intellectual vibe to it, owing to the fact that it was near the UP Diliman campus.

As the Maginhawa community pantry inspired similar pantries all over the country, the idea has obviously appealed to a broader spectrum of society. To the government, community pantries show the ‘bayahinan’ spirit of the Filipinos in this time of crisis. But to Senator Panfilo Lacson, the sprouting of community pantries is a sign that people can no longer rely on the government to help them.

I agree with both the government and its critics. I’ve witnessed enough personal and social calamities to conclude that our ‘bayanihan’ spirit is our best alternative insurance during difficult times. That makes me immensely proud to be Filipino. But I also agree that the community pantry is a statement of the people that the government has fallen far short of its duties vis-a-vis the power and resources at its command.

If community pantries are a statement of the times, does it mean they only exist as long as they are needed at this time of serious food insecurity? I hope not. Though historically, food pantries were created to provide emergency food in times of crisis, I hope something more lasting and meaningful will emerge from this informal movement.

Following the Social Cognitive Theory, the community pantry movement has a potential to have a long-term impact on our own ability to be an agent of our own change; that it may trigger in each one of us that sense of empowerment to assert our other needs besides food.

Community pantries have the potential to become a starting ground for wider alliances and partnerships, allowing people to collectively reclaim their dignity through the pooling of their needs and resources. If that sounds like a parallel government, it may well be that way.

Government needs the help of its empowered people. Only an insecure and bungling government is afraid of its own people.

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