Death at crowded pantry: Officials stress coordination with local gov’t
A death marred the distribution of food aid at a community pantry set up on Friday by actor Angel Locsin to mark her birthday in Barangay Holy Spirit in Quezon City.
Barangay resident Rolando dela Cruz, 67, fainted as he waited his turn among thousands of people who flocked to the aid station inspired by the community pantry on Maginhawa, Quezon City. He had lined up as early as 3 a.m., Locsin said.
Dela Cruz was rushed to East Avenue Medical Center where he was declared dead on arrival at around 9 a.m., according to a report by the Quezon City Police District (QCPD).
In a Facebook post in Filipino, Locsin said she had met with Dela Cruz’s children at the hospital and would be “seeking forgiveness from them all my life.”
“Tatay was a very hardworking ‘balut’ vendor,” she said of Dela Cruz. “I was not able to meet him, but meeting his children, I knew that he was a good man who was able to properly raise his children,” she said.
Locsin took responsibility for what had happened and said she hoped other community pantries that are doing well would not be adversely affected by it.
The Quezon City government said it would shoulder the burial expenses and provide financial assistance to the Dela Cruz family.
Mayor Joy Belmonte said that while the city government was supporting relief efforts for its residents, “this unfortunate incident should serve as an important reminder to organizers … of my appeal to coordinate all efforts with the barangay and, if necessary, with the [local government].
Photos of the community pantry set up on Holy Spirit Drive corner Don Matias Street in Don Antonio Heights showed a crowd of residents outside. Stubs were distributed to 300 persons but some 3,000 converged on the site, according to Department of Public Order and Safety chief Elmo San Diego, citing figures from the QCPD.
Belmonte said the city government would assist in crowd control to ensure the enforcement of physical distancing and other health protocols in such projects.
“Advanced coordination will allow all stakeholders to be proactive, rather than reactive. Sadly, in this case, we were not advised regarding any plans, which would have surely made a difference in the outcome of today’s events,” the mayor said.
Cutting the line
Locsin said in a Facebook live video that the distribution of goods started with the recipients queuing in an orderly manner—until certain people cut the line, which led to the jostling and crowding.
She said her crew sought help from City Hall and the barangay, which immediately responded. Even policemen and soldiers helped with crowd control, but there were just too many people that it became difficult to enforce physical distancing, she said.
Locsin is known for her acts of philanthropy during the COVID-19 pandemic, extending aid to jeepney drivers and others made jobless by the lockdowns, and donating tents to hospitals.
She said she had wanted to celebrate her birthday “by helping others.”
“This is not what I wanted,” she said. “We started in an orderly fashion, and with good intentions and plans for social distancing. Maybe it just happened that people are really hungry. That’s why there were people who cut the line.”
Locsin said that as of Friday afternoon, goods were being distributed to those in line, with a fast lane set up for senior citizens who had been waiting for aid since the morning.
The incident has prompted the Department of the Interior and Local Government to require coordination between organizers of community pantries and barangay and local officials.
“It’s the organizer’s responsibility to impose the minimum health standards,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a statement. “That’s the primary reason why they have to coordinate with barangay, local government officials and police to ensure health and safety protocols are observed.”
The Maginhawa Community Pantry in Teachers Village, Quezon City, now on its second week, has inspired more than 300 such food aid projects nationwide.
German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel said she was “deeply impressed” by the solidarity of Filipinos when she visited the highly popular pantry earlier this week.
Reiffenstuel met with pantry organizer Ana Patricia Non and brought food items to add to the donations that regularly arrive at the site.
“Been at Maginhawa #CommunityPantry today, donated food items. Deeply impressed by the solidarity spirit of the Filipinos. Great respect for the volunteers and the initiative,” the envoy wrote on Twitter on April 21.
A similar post was shared on April 22 by the German Embassy on its Instagram account.
The Maginhawa Community Pantry continues to draw both donors and recipients.
Non paused operations on April 20 after being Red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and feeling threatened by certain policemen who sought a meeting with her.
She reopened the pantry the next day after being assured of protection by Mayor Belmonte.
—WITH REPORTS FROM NEIL ARWIN MERCADO AND DEXTER CABALZA INQ