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Opinion

Social dynamics of community pantry

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

So much has been aired, televised, published, written, and shared about community pantries, that it’s clearly a successful program and project. Especially during this pandemic, it’s achieving its goal of providing the less-fortunate members of society with food. It has re-activated the Filipino sharing values and empowered them. From the first community pantry initiated by Ana Patricia Non in Quezon City, there are now over 400 similar pantries all over the Philippines. How many more will crop up and how long they will last, is what we will explore, after we dissect and analyze the cause of this phenomenon, the government’s reactions, the public’s reception, and the immediate and long-term implications.

Community sharing isn’t new, it’s an idea promoted by all religions and moral theories. Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and even extremist sects share food with community members. Jesus breaking bread with his disciples and the multiplication of loaves and fishes are examples. Muslims even have the term “zakat” for this practice. In the developed countries in Europe and the US, community kitchens and food banks come up during economic depressions and in the poorer sections of the cities. What’s peculiar about the current community pantry in the Philippines, is that it started from a single private person, without even an organized group, devoid of any institutional or government support. It started as a good intention from the pure heart of a single person, a non-entity in a symbolically-named Maginhawa Street, which translates to freedom from hunger and poverty street.

The National Task Force to end Local Communist Armed Movement (NTF-ELCAC) and the Malacañang propaganda group, reacted to this phenomenon very badly by red-tagging it, badmouthing, and harassing the organizer. This drew such tremendous backlash from all sectors and 99% of the public that all the other government departments, legislature, and Cabinet secretaries had to officially disavow the actions of NTF-ELCAC and publicly support the Community pantries. While this can be viewed as just another of the uncoordinated actions of the extremely rabid supporters of the president, who sees the movement as an indictment of the government’s failures, it’s actually an acceptance of the reality of the present conditions in public health and the economy. Public backlash and the proliferation of more community pantries will be telling on the political plans of this administration, and even on the ongoing projects of the government before the elections. The backtracking and appeasement currently done by the DILG, police, military, LGUs, and Malacañang shows how much damage has been done, which is irreversible.

The uneven distribution of wealth is the main reason for the moral need to share resources, and it’s a major objective of governments to reduce the distortion and even provide for “safety nets” to those most vulnerable. In a growing economy, the same percentage distribution will mean every strata’s share will get bigger. But in a shrinking economy, like what’s happening now in this pandemic, their share of the pie will also get smaller. If we put on top of this the corruption, wastage, misplaced/mis-prioritized projects, (dolomite beach), and other government misappropriations, then the spontaneous community pantries are inevitable.

The resurgence of the community Bayanihan spirit among Filipinos in this time of need, is the most welcome immediate implication of community pantries. That it is being replicated in other parts of the country and how long this will last is something to observe and analyze as it’s dependent on available material and human resources. As of now, it’s a success for the people and the country and problematic for the government. The people have realized they have the power and social media and information technology is supporting this power. So, my advice to NTF-ELCAC is to look for communists in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea and not in the community pantries.

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