Police targeting your community pantry? Here’s what to do

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2021 11:06 PM | Updated as of Apr 22 2021 09:14 AM

People line up at the Maginhawa Community Pantry in Quezon City as it reopens to the public on April 21, 2021. The pantry resumed its operations after assurance of protection from the local government a day after it suspended operation due to reported profiling by the PNP and red-tagging of its organizers. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—Human rights lawyer Atty. Chel Diokno on Wednesday shared tips on how to deal with law enforcement agents in case they visit a community pantry.

In a Facebook post, Diokno enumerated what one should do in case a person running or volunteering in a community pantry were visited by the police or law enforcement agents.

Take note of their names

If the officers are in uniform, Diokno said one should take note of their names. If they are plainclothes, they must identify themselves.

"Kung hindi pumayag, politely say that you can’t accommodate them, dahil di mo alam kung law enforcers ba talaga sila," Diokno said.

(If they refuse to identify themselves, politely say that you cannot accommodate them because you are not sure whether they really are law enforcers.)

Do not fill out any kind of form

According to Diokno, one has no obligation to fill out any form or give personal information.

The lawyer said: "Tandaan din itong paalala ni Data Privacy Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro: 'While more people set up community pantries in the spirit of bayanihan, it has come to our attention that there were concerns over alleged profiling of organizers of these initiatives. Individuals were purportedly asked to provide personal data including their email address, Facebook account, name, family background, among others. We would like to emphasize that collecting personal data must be done fairly and lawfully with respect to the rights of a data subject, including the rights to be informed and [to] object."

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No cops allowed on private property without a search warrant

If a community pantry is on private property, Diokno said the police cannot enter without a search warrant, unless the owner allows them to enter.

"Ask for a warrant signed by a judge. Kung wala, sabihin, 'Pasensya na po, pero di kayo pwedeng pumasok kung wala kayong search warrant.'," Diokno said.

(Ask for a warrant signed by a judge. If they cannot show one, tell them that they cannot enter the premises without a search warrant.)

If the police insist, Diokno said to assert your right.

"Tell them: Karapatan ko po 'yan, at 'yan po ang advice sa akin ng abogado'," he added.

If on public land, ensure you are not violating any law or ordinance

Diokno said if the community pantry is on public land, one must be sure to follow all laws and ordinances, such as not obstructing traffic or littering. 

The police do not need a search warrant to enter, but they still need one to search any private property that is on public land.

No permit from mayor, barangay or DSWD permit needed

If the police ask for a document such as a mayor's permit or business permit, barangay permit, or an authority to solicit from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Diokno said one must explain what the local governments and the government have explained about community pantries.

"Sabihin na based on your understanding, hindi kailangan ng permit dahil hindi naman kayo nagnenegosyo. Your only purpose is to help the needy and marginalized," Diokno said.

(Tell them that based on your understanding, you don't need a permit because this is not a business. Your only purpose is to help the needy and marginalized.)

Not a violation of IATF guidelines

Diokno said establishing community pantries do not violate Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guidelines.

"IATF guidelines/regulations are only recommendatory and do not have the force of law unless they are adopted by the LGU as a local ordinance," he said.

"Even under IATF guidelines, mass gatherings for authorized humanitarian activities are allowed sa ECQ at MECQ. Since a permit is not required to operate a community pantry, and the poor are urgently in need of food, a community pantry is an authorized humanitarian activity," he added.

Do not physically resist

In case the police try to demolish or dismantle a community pantry, Diokno said one should politely and firmly object, but avoid physical resistance.

"Kumuha ng pictures o video recording to document what they are doing. Tandaang hindi mo kailangan ng consent nila para mag-record. The Anti-Wiretapping Act only requires the consent of the parties kung private conversation or communication ito," he said.

(Take pictures or video to document what they are doing. Remember that you do not need their consent to record. The Anti-Wiretapping Act only requires the consent of the parties if it is private conversation or communication.)

Know your rights

In case the police try to arrest or search you or others, Diokno said one should assert their rights.

"You can refer to the primer made by FLAG, PCIJ, and the Foundation for Media Alternatives," he said.

Diokno, likewise, advised the public to read documents carefully before signing, or send a copy of the document to their lawyers before signing anything. If possible, one should also set up CCTV cameras in the area where they are setting up the community pantry, and ensure that it is recording everything 24/7.

"Sa lahat ng patuloy na tumutulong at nag-aambag sa mga community pantry, maraming salamat sa inyo. Sana makatulong ito sa inyo," he said.

Diokno said those who need legal advice can message him on Facebook.

Diokno's tips came after reports of police presence in some community pantries in the country.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) earlier accused several community pantry organizers of peddling pro-communist propaganda, but were met with criticism for maligning the pro-poor movement.

NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. earlier said the task force has been checking community pantries nationwide to see if these initiatives are adhering to government policies.

Hours after Parlade's statement, Malacañang instructed the panel to "leave community pantries alone."

As of posting, there are about 200 community pantries all over the country, mostly set up by private or religious groups. 

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