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The ‘politics’ of community pantries

The Filipinos’ culture of familism goes beyond the comforts of our home. It is seen in our personalistic ties with our kapitbahay, kabarangay, and kababayan. It is embedded in our close-knit social fabric, along with our sense of “pakikisama” and “bayanihan.”

The rise of community pantries is a testament to this culture of kinship. From the pioneer small stand of free food supplies on Maginhawa Street, community pantries are now everywhere in the country.

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Inarguably, this initiative is borne out of people’s compassion, goodwill, and sense of community in response to the demand for food assistance amid the pandemic. This grassroots movement is moving and optimistic, a reprieve from our hardships as a nation.

Yet, with this picture highlighting the number of Filipinos crying for help because of hunger, unemployment, and immobility, it is wrong to dismiss the political dynamics at the foreground of this spontaneous movement.

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It is wrong to see hundreds of people queuing in line under the scorching heat without asking why they need to stock up on donated food to make it through the day. It is wrong to hail community pantries while being devoid of, or hostile to, awareness of the political issues that have left a large swath of our population drained of livelihood, money, and hope, making them depend on such neighborhood acts of charity and solidarity.

“Pamumulitika” (politicking) is the malicious imputation of advancing one’s political interests through a public issue. Many have seen community pantries as an implication of government inaction; when others dismiss the movement as simply politicking, that devalues the truth it carries.

The government’s role is to steer our nation in the right direction. Right now, it seems to have lost its way. The number of people going hungry has reached a record high during the pandemic, per the Social Weather Stations survey of December 2020. Also, in a recent Asian Development Bank Institute study, about 70 percent of Filipino households reported that they had at least one family member who lost their job or had to reduce work hours.

Scores of displaced jeepney drivers now ply the streets begging for alms to feed their families, and tens of thousands of low-income earners have flocked to “ayuda” centers with the new lockdown in place. The government promised a measly P1,000 cash aid to each beneficiary in NCR plus, but only a meager fraction of the funding has been distributed at this time.

These are telling signs that we are in a deep rut. The community pantries are a way for ordinary citizens to help each other at this extreme hour, even if only on a transitory, stop-gap basis. As Patricia Non, the organizer of the Maginhawa pantry, said: “Hindi niya maso-solve ang kahirapan at kagutuman pero sapat siya pantawid gutom para makapagaral, makapagtrabaho, makapagisip at even lumaban (It will not solve poverty and hunger, but it can help stave off hunger to help people study, go to work, make plans, and fight [for better conditions]).”

When the outbreak took hold in 2020, Feeding America, the largest network of food banks in the United States, claimed billions of dollars in shortfall because of the immense demand for donated food. Not even the generous donation of one of the world’s richest individuals, Elon Musk, made a dent in the colossal problem of hunger that the pandemic poses. Community pantries will continue to thrive and be seen as a necessity as long as there is a crying need for them. Their presence is a demand on the government leadership to do better for their suffering people.

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Claudyn Caparon has been a technical writer for various government and private institutions for 10 years. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of the Philippines-NCPAG specializing in public policy and program administration.

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TAGS: Bayanihan, community pantry, Maginhawa, politics
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