MANILA, Philippines — Did President Rodrigo Duterte just take a shot at community pantries in his pre-recorded briefing that aired on Monday?
The president did not use the term “community pantry,” but he said the government would be burdened should infections arise due to people gathering to get food assistance.
“You know, all of you who have studied, the very thing that is being avoided, or [we] tried to control, was the convergence of people — closer so that their saliva gets spread because they’re shouting. That’s the very thing that the government does not want,” Duterte said, speaking partly in Filipino.
“Secondly, they’re going home. They have spouses, children, families. They’re carrying the infection that they got from a place with so many people. Then when they get sick, it’s not you [the organizers of the gatherings] whom they approach for help. They’re going to the government. That’s the government’s problem,” he added.
The organizers might have good reasons for what they’re doing, but they have not anticipated that some people would not follow health protocols, Duterte said.
“You may try to wriggle out that there is a good reason to [do it]. But you added [to the problem]. People were swarming. It might not be the first thing that you did with your idea, but from there it generated these [infections]. So they got near each other, until [the number of infections] rises again,” he said.
“So we are again forced to enforce a quarantine to limit people from going around and passing the COVID virus to a lot of people… Let’s not kid each other. You did not see [this would happen] because you still did it [organize the gatherings]. The fact that you did it [means] you did not know the consequences,” he added.
Community pantries sprouted after Metro Manila and nearby provinces went on an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to rising COVID-19 cases. With the ECQ affecting incomes, some people thought of getting food donations to help those in need.
Pantries gained popularity nationwide, especially because some sectors believe the government’s P1,000 aid per head — with a cap of P4,000 per family — was just not enough.
But the initiative drew criticism as health experts observed that health precautions — such as physical distancing and wearing of face masks and shields — were not being followed.
One unfortunate incident happened at the community pantry set up by actress Angel Locsin. A man collapsed and died in the midst of massive crowding as people tried to obtain free food and other essentials.
According to Duterte, the government also started distributing goods during the ECQ, and eventually the modified ECQ (MECQ), enforced in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. However, he said it was done in secret to avoid untoward incidents.
The distribution happened during the extended two weeks of the quarantine, he said. He said he directed Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista to have some goods packed for distribution through barangay chiefs, who would know whom among their residents really needed food aid.
Then he suggested that barangay health workers could be tapped to distribute the goods.
“Why don’t you marshall their efforts so that they will deliver — at distance. They need not get close [to the recipients]. Just put it on a table near the fence or what,” he added.