MANILA - Several senators on Tuesday scorned government officials who accused some community pantry organizers of being communist supporters, saying helping people should be encouraged instead of threatened during the pandemic.
The condemnation from lawmakers came after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) shared several posts on social media, accusing community pantry organizers of peddling propaganda.
"We should learn from the concept of community pantry, it's simple and easy," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a statement.
"I appeal to our officials not to make it difficult for those who want to help. This is the true spirit of bayanihan, so please leave them alone."
The government should "keep their hands off community pantries," and avoid "tainting the initiative," senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Grace Poe said in separate statements.
"'Yan na lang ang nag-iisang good news na lumalabas ngayon lalo na nasa ilamim tayo ng pandemiya," Gatchalian said.
Poe added: "Let's not taint the initiatives to help stem hunger with suspicions of communist links . . . Tumutulong na nga sila, tinatakot pa."
(They are helping and yet they are being intimidated.)
"It puts their lives in peril, which is not the way to treat our people doing good for their countrymen," she said.
Ana Patricia Non, who conceptualized the pantry, earlier said she had to temporarily close her Maginhawa stall due to fears for her safety.
The Senate minority bloc also condemned the red-tagging of community pantry organizers, saying "the harassment and intimidation of those involved in these relief efforts exacerbate the hunger and hardships of our citizens."
"It is deplorable to paint this initiative with suspicions of communist links," the senators said in a joint statement.
"We will always protect and uphold our fundamental rights, especially those toward a functioning and participative democracy."
Sen. Nancy Binay reminded the government's anti-communism panel that "the enemy is hunger", and that those who are trying to solve it should not be persecuted.
"Ganyan na ba ka-paranoid na pati ang pagtulong sa kapwa ay minamasama? Ano'ng ambag n'yo?" Binay said in a statement.
"When common people collectively band together to help those who are in need... I don’t see them as enemies of the state, but as champions who have genuine compassion for our people."
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto also criticized an Interior official's statement that community pantry organizers should secure permits from barangays or local government units before mounting their shelves full of free food.
"Community pantries need more food bags, not red tags, nor red tape," Recto said in a statement, noting that under the law "community pantries require no state franchise, nor government permit, nor police clearance."
"Let them bloom wherever they sprout, regardless of who planted them. Bureaucracy has no business throwing a shade over this pure expression of people’s power," he added.
Sen. Joel Villanueva urged the those red-tagging community pantry organizers to support the movement instead.
"Suporta, hindi suspetsa. Ito ang dapat na tugon natin sa mga community pantries na walang ibang layunin kundi ang tumulong sa kapwa," Villanueva said.
"Ang mga ito ay nagmula sa kabutihan at sa nag-ugat sa ating konsepto ng pagtutulungan sa komunidad, mga katangian na dapat nating pinapalakas at inuudyukan."
Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go reminded government officials that the fight against COVID-19 involves all Filipinos.
"Tama lang na magbigay ng tulong ayon sa kaya yung mga may sobra. Kaysa masayang o mag-expire, mabuti nang mapakinabangan ng mga mas nangangailangan," he said.
(It is but right for those who have more in life to share their excesses. It's better if others can benefit from these goods instead of just letting these go to waste.)