Community pantries expose gov’t aid delay, say lawmakers
MANILA, Philippines — While inspired by the popping up of community pantries in many areas across the country, several lawmakers have been unanimous in saying that the phenomenon has also shone a harsh light on the government’s COVID-19 response, prompting ordinary people to come to their neighbors’ aid in the absence of help from authorities.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said on Monday that the emergence of these pantries was not an indictment of the government’s poor handling of the pandemic even as he apologized for the delayed distribution of cash assistance.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said the rise of the community pantry showed that “not all hope is lost.”
“However, it’s a wake-up call that government must do more to provide for the people,” she added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson echoed her sentiments in a post on Twitter in which he described the community pantry as “an inspiration born out of desperation.”
“It is a selfless act of people, unwitting they may be, [who] are telling government to do better,” he said.
For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, while the pantries showed that the spirit of volunteerism and cooperation was still alive, they also highlighted the government’s major shortcomings in addressing COVID-19.
“This administration needs to step up. There’s a big gap. The people cannot afford to come to the government’s rescue forever,” she said.
In a message to reporters, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the community pantry was an expression of the “bayanihan spirit.”
“We are a caring and sharing people. This will be very helpful in assisting families cope with COVID,” he added, saying it was but natural in times of crisis for “people [to] organize themselves to survive.”
In separate statements, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senators Francis Pangilinan, Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay and Leila de Lima also lauded the setting up of community pantries, mostly by volunteers, and called on the public and private sector to help sustain these through their support.
At the House of Representatives, progressive lawmakers said the pantries merely reflected the administration’s failed pandemic response.
“[They are a] scathing indictment of Duterte’s failed pandemic response and outright refusal to provide sufficient cash subsidy despite trillions in loans,” Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a statement.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate agreed, saying the pantries were “an act of resistance against government’s neglect and indifference.”
“We should not forget that the rise of community pantries is emblematic of how the present administration, despite the available resources, grossly failed in its obligations to help millions of our poor people cope with the ravages of the crisis,” he said.
Both he and Brosas reiterated their call for the speedy passage of House Bill No. 9089, which would provide P10,000 to 18 million low-income and poor families in the country.
But for Roque, the rise of community pantries was a “spontaneous” movement and part of the Filipino psyche to help one another in times of need.
“I don’t see that as a condemnation of government. It simply shows the best in us during the worst of times,” he said as he urged people not to politicize the issue.
A total of 22.9 million low-income earners would receive P1,000 each under a new round of financial aid from the government after Metro Manila and four nearby provinces were again placed on lockdown starting last month due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Roque, however, acknowledged a delay in the distribution with only P4 billion given out so far because local governments needed to be careful to prevent crowds from forming which could further spread the coronavirus.
When asked by reporters in a briefing about concerns that health protocols might be disregarded by people lining up at community pantries, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire replied that local governments should help organizers maintain order.
“We recognize the effort of people to help others. That is very important especially in the current situation we are facing. Seeing that others are ready to help is important to one’s mental wellness and in the confidence of our people,” she said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES, DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN AND MELVIN GASCON INQ
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