Ganging up on a good thing
Paranoid government officials sank to a new low this week when they attempted to harass, intimidate, and “red-tag” ordinary citizens behind the community pantries that have spontaneously exploded all over the country.
On April 19, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) shared on its official Facebook pages posts making the ludicrous claim that the humble community pantries were being used to recruit citizens into the communist movement. The Quezon City Police District did the same and went a step further, swooping down on a number of these pantries and asking volunteers to fill up forms requiring personal information, earning the police a warning from the National Privacy Commission.
That they were profiling the community pantry organizers was baldly admitted by NTF-Elcac spokesperson Lt. Gen Antonio Parlade Jr,, who said in a radio interview that of course the task force was looking into the background of the leaders: “Yes, chini-check ’yan. Habang nandoon sila sa community, meron silang propaganda na ginagawa. May sinasabi silang gutom ang mga tao dahil sa kapalpakan ng gobyerno, kung ano-ano pa.”
Wait: No one in the administration actually thought of raising the point that it would be a public-relations disaster to gang up on an initiative that was plainly about people helping other people? That there is indeed appalling hunger and despair out there that the government “ayuda” is barely able to stanch, and so coming down hard on a spontaneous, immediately popular movement to share food and other necessities would be downright odious in the eyes of the public?
But no. Eager-beaver minions of the administration, helped along by its professional troll army that was strangely beside itself with fury at the sight of scores of the impoverished lining up either to partake of a clump of vegetables and rice or donate one themselves, went ahead and gleefully disparaged, slandered, and red-tagged the community pantries. The threat was so real that Ana Patricia Non, the 26-year-old entrepreneur behind the first makeshift community pantry on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, had to stop operations on April 20 and turn away those who had lined up as early as 3 a.m., fearing for her life and those of the volunteers.
As if the red-tagging were not enough, the government also tried to stifle the citizen movement with red tape. Interior Undersecretary Martin Diño said organizers had to first secure a permit before they could be allowed to put up their own community pantry; this was the same guy that just days ago had threatened to arrest desperate folk lining up early for badly needed cash aid from the government, supposedly because they were violating quarantine protocols. That brain-dead threat was quickly shot down by Diño’s own department—the same fate it gave to his latest howler, which only added to the impression of a bewildered government shamed and shaken to its bones by the radical idea of citizens fending for themselves.
That the community pantries were an indictment of the administration’s response to the pandemic and the economic blight was, of course, clear to all but the most rabid DDS (Duterte Diehard Supporters) and administration officials. (Speaking of DDS, who are wont to demand “ano ang ambag mo?” — what’s your contribution to society — from any dissenter: Where are the DDS community pantries?) Poor Filipinos in the Greater Metro Manila Area displaced by the new lockdown have reason to feel aggrieved, as just over half of them have received the subsidy they were promised — a dismaying P1,000 each or P4,000 per family. Given that inadequacy, why would anyone in officialdom, or their raving partisans, begrudge the inspiring citizen volunteerism that has sprung up — there are now some 350 community pantries all over the country, put up by groups of citizens, churches, villages, even police and fire stations—to try to fill the glaring gaps in the government response?
Fortunately, many local government units have embraced the community pantries and vowed to support, rather than curtail, their activities. Malacañang itself, sensing the fierce public backlash, told the anticommunist task force to leave the community pantries alone, while Quezon City Police District Director Brig. Gen. Antonio Yarra had to issue a “sincere apology” to Non, assuring her of “safety and protection.” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas issued separate statements denying they had ordered the police to profile the organizers of community pantries, and that such “selfless acts of kindness” should be “encouraged and supported.”
Letting loose their mad dogs at simple bamboo stalls manned by weary, traumatized citizens finding solace in helping others is among the dumbest ideas the powers that be can think of—hence perhaps the dire straits the country is in.