Community pantries and DU30
It looks like serendipity or plain coincidence. One cannot find a better place to spark a national community pantry movement than Maginhawa Street. “Maginhawa Community Pantry” exudes hope with fulfillment. Maginhawa Street threads through Teachers Village, Sikatuna Village, and UP Village. It is the “eat street,” a culinary melting pot where the cognoscenti habitually find new food adventures. It is a place where concerned neighbors are sufficiently affluent to sustain a flow of food to a community pantry.
But the spark may also be traced to the prevalent patriotic and humanistic “operating system” that Maginhawa residents like Ana Patricia Non have imbibed as being part of the larger University of the Philippines community. On the other hand, this street is also the confluence of surrounding pockets of informal settlers and urban poor in Daang Tubo, Libis, UP Arboretum, Pinyahan, etc. It is also where a lot of poor people—tricycle drivers, hawkers, repairmen, domestics—earn their livelihood.
But the impoverishment and the widespread and prolonged hunger that have set the stage for this idea of a community pantry to spread across the archipelago are all to the credit of Rodrigo Duterte’s maladministration. While he intones statistics showing the Philippines is doing remarkably well compared to Asean countries in vaccinating the people and dealing with the pandemic, a desperate nation hurries to share survival rations with the poor and hungry.
Giving food to the needy is certainly not an innovation. It happens all the time. Relief operations respond to sudden-onset disasters. But a slow-onset disaster like a pandemic, complexed with lockdowns and hunger, requires a calibrated and coterminous response to prolonged loss of livelihood among a large segment of the population. It is not expected that a community pantry will run forever, only when there is a surging demand to stave off hunger for a day. When the right time comes, the community pantries will “wither away.”
A community pantry has self-regulation mechanisms. Transparency and accountability rule and peer pressure rules. Donors give and are gratefully acknowledged. As a matter of probability, only the really hungry and needy and their families will be served. The small value and level of operations ensures that those who have livelihoods will not be sufficiently desperate to line up for some food items.
But the real innovation is the community pantry as an expression of public opinion. Although unintended, it is no less than a nationwide referendum on the Duterte administration where people vote with their feet, prodded by their empty stomachs. It is a powerful counterfoil to the image of success and competence that the Duterte administration continues to propagate.
The community pantry is a novel form of people power. The military and the police saw this and their knee-jerk reaction was to intimidate and red-tag the organizers of the community pantries. The military and the police are, however, not the right instruments to nip this movement in the bud. All they have done is douse the spreading wildfire with gasoline.
The hollowness of the military and police response is evident when even the innocent guideline of “Give what you can, take what you need” alarms them as an echo of the Karl Marx dictum “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” That PNP-AFP paranoia will go on overdrive when the rather elitist term “community pantry” is translated into Filipino, like “Kaban ng Bayan” or “Kalam ng Tiyan” Movement.
The community pantry movement exposes for the masses the cognitive dissonance between President Duterte’s rosy promises and his fetid performance. Now Mr. Duterte is in a quandary. As we approach a crucial presidential election on which his future well-being depends, he does not have the right people who know how to communicate with a hungry and desperate people. In choosing to invest heavily in the police and military and in weaponizing the law and justice institutions over the last five years, he has treated his people like criminals, subversives, and recalcitrants. Against their collective pain and search for hope and comfort, all Mr. Duterte can field are not social and development workers, but men in camouflage uniforms, rattan sticks, and long firearms.
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