Gov’t red-tagging community pantries shows extent of paranoia about civic action — CPDG

April 23, 2021

Maginhawa Community Pantry (photo by Bernadette Anne Morales)

The Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) scored the Philippine government’s duplicity in claiming to welcome and support the flourishing of community pantries while defending their vilification and harassment by security forces. Government paranoia about organized civic action and against criticism is so extreme that they want veto power even over such small-scale voluntary charitable efforts.

Hundreds of pantries or carts stocked with donated food and distributed for free to the needy have sprouted nationwide in response to the government’s refusal to give substantial emergency assistance amid the longest and harshest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) were quick to link these to Communist insurgents and Philippine National Police (PNP) elements immediately harassed many community pantry organizers.

While Malacañang seemingly supported community pantries, along with some other government officials such as from the PNP, the presidential spokesperson however also absurdly defended the NTF-ELCAC’s red-tagging as “free speech”. The national security adviser in turn said that they would look into the organizers of the community-based self-help efforts.

In effect, the government has reserved the right to justify security-oriented restrictions on civic action whenever and wherever they deem it necessary. This reduces civil society to only those which the authoritarian Duterte administration deems acceptable. The ultimate effect of this will be to stifle donations, impede operations, inhibit free speech, and reduce the number of poor and hungry Filipinos helped.

“The words and actions of the government and military to supposedly support community pantries are empty if they keep seeing red whenever people come together to help themselves in the face of government neglect and if every aspect of civic action is always so closely monitored by paranoid security forces,” says Liza Maza, CPDG Spokesperson.

She adds: “They promote disunity instead of encouraging united action. They lose sight of the government’s disorganized and failing pandemic response which does not address the dire situation of the people. They are oblivious to the fact that these community efforts across the country are a desperate attempt of the people to provide what the government lacks.”

CPDG points out that the Duterte administration has been red-tagging and maligning humanitarian efforts of development workers for years. The NTF-ELCAC and PNP’s malicious actions against community pantries are only the most recent violations of people’s rights and restriction of democratic and civic spaces in the Philippines.

The country has a long and rich history of community self-help and mutual aid efforts especially among those in the margins whom government has failed to support. Instead of giving utmost attention to measures addressing the people’s urgent needs and being genuinely encouraging of organized civic action, the government is intimidating and harassing ordinary citizens.

CPDG welcomes how the mayors of Quezon City, Manila and Pasig quickly spoke out to defend community pantries in their jurisdictions. This was eventually followed by all sixteen local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila asserting that permits or clearances are not required.

CPDG also welcomes the proposals by six Senators – Senators Joel Villanueva, Grace Poe, Win Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Franklin Drilon, and Nancy Binay – to defund the NTF-ELCAC. “The NTF-ELCAC is clearly counterproductive and its budget can be rechanneled to the most urgent pandemic-related development needs of our people instead of supporting the tightening of civic space in the country,” adds Maza. She also pointed out other bills critical for upholding and expanding civic space in the country: “We likewise urge Congress to pass the bills on criminalizing red-tagging and protecting human rights defenders.”

CPDG joins hands with like-minded organizations and individuals in upholding the democratic rights of people in helping those who are in need. These humanitarian acts should be respected and recognized by the governments and its agencies. “We implore the government to re-evaluate its current pandemic response and implement humane and health-centered measures while respecting the right of every citizen to hold organized action in aiding those in need amid the pandemic”, ends Maza. #