Maginhawa Community Pantry
By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
A few hours from now and the Maginhawa Community Pantry shall begin to share the goods it received from various individuals and groups from all parts of the country. All the other pantries that have sprouted all over the country will open as well, some innovating on the concept, as what is being done by the GO BIKE project which launched its Community Pantry with Free Healthcare Services on Wheels in the municipality of Bugallon in Pangasinan to provide food and medical services to residents.
The pantry in Maginhawa has stopped for a day due to “red-tagging” from government agencies particularly from the police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which according to Patricia Non, the pioneer of this noble cause, endangered the lives of their volunteers. The red-tagging was widely castigated in social media, as well as by government officials, some of whom threatened to redirect the 13B intelligence fund allocation to social services. The NTF-ELCAC “lamented that the communist movement is taking advantage of the Filipinos’ bayanihan (teamwork) amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic”, which is as much a possibility as the idea being corrupted by some politicians who have opened community pantries with their names on the makeshift pantry sheds. The community pantries, particularly in Maginhawa, has evolved to become a political battleground.
The political implications of the pantries can, indeed, be used by interest groups to pursue their own agenda as the national elections will be held in May 2022. But it started as an act of sharing, emanating from a common experience of suffering during the pandemic. I chanced upon it on its first day, during my regular brisk walk on the street, with my niece Jam. We walked past the small cart, with about four people standing beside it, then she suddenly stopped and took out something from her backpack.
“Tita, can you just put this on the cart? I cannot go near it because there are some people there, and I am avoiding crowds.”
She handed me one kilo of rice. She said it was a small “ambag” (contribution), and that she will bring some more during the next few days. I did as I was requested and we moved on. My experience with human behavior made me voice out an apprehension.
“This concept is very good, but prone to abuse by people who are greedy.”
“Tita, who would do such a thing? Only those who are in need will go near that cart.”
I did not argue. Years of experience with community organizing made me aware of this fact. I was not surprised to see a healthy-looking woman grab a tray of eggs. I was not surprised to hear an old woman say on television, that it is better to line up in the pantry than to get paid washing clothes. It is a throwback of so many past encounters with greed and human behavior vis-à-vis kindness and good intentions.
This is what is at hand. Our government and major institutions failed to inculcate patriotism and the basic values critical in nation-building, and so we take it in our hands, in our own little ways. In many ways, we also failed ourselves, in not getting fully engaged in the way we are being governed, in the way we have insulated ourselves from the hunger and human suffering around us. The Maginhawa Community Pantry is an act coming from the essence of the human heart, and it serves as an act of our own redemption. It is a strong reminder to focus attention on the imperatives for citizen engagement, volunteerism and the urgency for more sustainable alternatives.
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