Authorities' red tagging vs community pantry volunteers violate their presumption of innocence

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 24 2021 08:37 PM

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MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Saturday warned authorities that they were violating a person's presumption of innocence when they red-tag community pantry volunteers, as the movement continues to sprout across different parts of the country. 

In an interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana said she "sees no reason" for law enforcement authorities to get private information from the volunteers behind the initiative. 

There are also no basis to question them because it is a "community action" that aimed to help the needy. 

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.

"It is a private sector initiative. Nakita naman natin, sa ocular inspection lamang, may nakikita ka bang krimen diyan? May nakikita ka bang nangyayaring masama sa pantry na 'yon that would require intervention from the police. Why will you attribute that something will happen, something in the future... bakit mo ina-anticipate yon?" said Gana. 

(Through the ocular inspection alone, can you spot any crimes being committed or anything alarming that would warrant police intervention? Why are they anticipating that something bad will happen?)

Authorities' red tagging vs community pantry volunteers violate their presumption of innocence 1
Residents grab goods from the Matimyas Workers Pantry in Sampaloc, Manila on April 16, 2021. Inspired by the Maginhawa Community Pantry in Quezon City, a labor group set up their own version to extend help to residents in their area. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Gana also pointed out that red-tagging community pantry volunteers also violates a person's right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, right to free expression, and a person's right to life, among others. 

"It also actually violates in a way the right to life because you have to have the right to food in order to live. Marami talagang mga karapatan na tatapakan dito sa red-tagging," she explained.

(A lot of rights can be trampled on because of red-tagging.) 

Police's visibility near the community pantries, she said, would only be acceptable if they secure the area for the residents, volunteers, and for enforcing minimum health protocols against COVID-19. 

The commissioner also reminded public officials to be careful with their accusations, as it could threaten the person's safety and security. 

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"Hindi ka dapat basta-basta magsalita, na i-tag mo ang isang tao ito na terorista, komunista, alam mo naman na you are in authority, therefore kung ano man ang sasabihin mo ay may epekto yun eh sa perception, opinion ng mamamayan even the safety of the person you are accusing and tagging." she explained. 

(You should not say things loosely and tag a person that they are terrorists or communists. You are a person in authority, so what you will say will have an effect on the perception of the public.) 

"Can you imagine the influence ng sinabi mo if you are a person in authority? so dapat dahan-dahan at pag-isipan nang mabuti at sana ay wag nilang abusuhin ang kanilang posisyon," she noted. 

(They should think about their words and statements carefully, and I hope they will not abuse their positions.) 

Pioneer community pantry organizer Ana Patricia Non earlier this week 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. 

This prompted the suspension of her project's operations in Maginhawa, where hundreds have lined up daily since its creation in mid-April. 

Several senators earlier commended the public for opening community pantries for poor Filipinos, saying the people have no choice but to rely on themselves because of perceived inefficiencies and lapses by the national government.