MANILA (UPDATE) - Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Tuesday he has not ordered the Philippine National Police to look into community pantries after the organizer of the original pantry in Quezon City said she was questioned by local authorities.
Año made the remark after Ana Patricia Non, organizer of the Maginhawa community pantry which has inspired a nationwide movement, said 3 policemen asked for her contact number and to which organization she belongs.
The Quezon City Police District (QCPD) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict have also shared social media posts accusing community pantries of propaganda.
"As long as the intention is good and without political color, it should be encouraged and supported. Since this is a purely voluntary and private initiative, we should not interfere except to ensure that minimum health standards are complied with," Año said in a statement.
"I have not ordered the PNP to look into the community pantries around the country. The community pantry has been a traditional practice in our country as part of Bayanihan culture and spirit specially in the times of calamities and disasters."
Organizers must observe existing laws and local ordinances such as COVID-19 protocols, Año said.
"As to the issue of whether organizers are required to secure barangay permits, organizers should consult with the concerned barangays if such is required," he said.
Local officials and the PNP are "ready to provide utmost assistance to ensure orderly distribution to the public," he added.
The Maginhawa community pantry suspended operations on Tuesday as Non sought help from Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte.
"Natatakot po ako maglakad mag-isa papunta sa community pantry ng alas-5 ng umaga dahil po sa walang basehang paratang sa amin. Gusto ko lang po talaga makatulong at sana po ay huwag niyo masamain," Non said in a Facebook post.
(I'm scared to walk by myself to the community pantry at 5 a.m. because of baseless accusations against us. I really just want to help, please don't take it the wrong way.)
"Malungkot po dahil hindi muna maipapamahagi ang goods na inihanda namin buong maghapon dahil po sa #RedTagging na nagaganap."
(It's sad that we can't distribute goods we prepared all day due to red tagging.)
QC gov't launches investigation on 'apprehension'
In a statement, Belmonte said she asked QCPD District Director Brig. Gen. Antonio Yarra to investigate Non's reported "apprehensions and earlier experiences."
Non earlier said that 3 police officers have asked for her contact number and to which organization she belonged, raising safety concerns for her and her volunteers.
But the mayor said the local government "fully supports" community pantries.
"I will likewise meet with Station 9 Commander Police Lt. Col. Imelda Reyes, under which jurisdiction Maginhawa falls, to further discuss Miss Non’s security concerns," she said.
"In these difficult times, let us allow kindness and selflessness to prevail. Mabuhay po tayong lahat, at magtulungan po tayong lahat (Long live everyone and let's help each other)."
Earlier in the day, Belmonte said the QC government has helped Non in ensuring physical distancing in the community pantry.
Local community pantries around the metro and provinces sprouted, inspired by the Maginhawa stall, in a bid to fill the gap on the government's failed coronavirus response, two senators had said.
The pantries, made of makeshift shelves or stalls on streets, offer food and other necessities, with anyone free to get what they need, as the COVID-19 crisis drags on and many lack daily essentials.