The whole trouble with #CommunityPantry initiatives in the Philippines

There is a cost to everything — even to free stuff. Those community pantry initiatives springing up all over the Philippines are good. But there is no such thing as a free lunch, in this case literally. I touched on one such cost of the proliferation of these community pantries to society in my previous article where I highlight how Philippine Opposition partisans struggling with an acute crisis of relevance even as the 2022 elections loom in the horizon have all but thrown dishonest political shade on an otherwise noble concept. As a result, instead of further uniting Filipinos around what were intended to be local-community-level projects, the concept had become the centre of a degenerated national “debate”. It is proving to be a cost to democracy because it diverts from conversation surrounding strategic direction and mires the best “minds” of the Opposition in inconsequential quibbles.

As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Because of the unnecessary attention attracted by community pantry initiatives, it is now beset by the scourge of unintended consequences. One such unintended consequence is how these are now being swamped by individuals — and even entire families — joining the queue to partake of all that free stuff on offer. So now a distribution model that works at a neighbourhood level is now subject to the demands of a barangay (district) level and possibly beyond. The question of sustainability becomes relevant. What if demand outstrips supply? Zena Bernardo, mother of Ana Patricia Non who started Maginhawa Community Pantry which is reportedly now swamped by an enormous — and growing — queue of patrons laments, “that if there are other people who are capable and willing to organize community pantries along Maginhawa Street, overcrowding would be avoided.” This follows concerns aired by some members of her neighbourhood over risks associated with the large crowds that gather on their street, often as early as the break of dawn.

This brings us to the next social cost of initiatives that involve doling out free stuff. Can community pantries survive the notorious Filipino Condition? There is a danger that, as desperation creeps further into the fabric of Philippine society, an even more virulent sense of entitlement to charity could take root in the Filipino psyche. Remember that big social problems like the vast squatter colonies that engulf much of Metro Manila and the jeepney infestation that holds public transportation in the megalopolis hostage all started as small acts of neighbourhood level altruism and stopgap instances of “Filipino ingenuity”. These and other scourges remain a stark reminder to all that there is no underestimating the Filipino’s capacity to pervert once-noble ideas and turn them into practically incurable social cancers. Indeed, one need look no further into history for case studies of this condition than the infamous Wowowee Stampede of 2006 where an enormous crowd of fans of the iconic ABS-CBN show trampled upon one another hoping for a chance to bag the free tickets and big prizes its host Willie Revillame dangled before them. The disaster left 88 dead. Not having learned from that lesson, as recently as January this year, fans also clustered dangerously close together — defying social distancing guidelines — to queue for dole outs on the occasion of Revillame’s birthday.

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Most important of all, once Filipinos get used to these stopgap workarounds and institutionalise them (the way squatters and jeepneys are now, themselves, institutions — even pillars — of Philippine society), those who seek to take them away become the bad guys. This is why squatters and jeepneys are now an intractable social problem — because no politician (even those who want to kick off modern housing and public transport initiatives) wants to be seen to be the bad guy who will put an end to all this parasitism. The same can be said of what community pantries, given a big enough dose of the same perversion that was worked into the squatter and jeepney infestation, could become. Are community pantries deadly stampedes waiting to happen? Only time will tell.

Finally, there is the question of whether Filipinos are really cut-out to be good community members. Indicative to answering this question is in the character of the average Filipino residential community. Just walking down even a middle-class street in Metro Manila, one would surely notice how most houses stand behind tall perimeter walls (often with shards of glass cemented to their top edges) with steel grills installed on every window. Step back even further and one will realise that the rich all live in fortified gated communities patrolled by heavily armed private armies. That says something of the sort of “community” Filipinos form. Indeed, if those who now politicise community pantries to oblivion are really sincere about the way they pat one another’s backs assuring themselves of just what an excellent society the Philippines has become “in protest of the Duterte government”, they should stop to think again. If bayanihan is truly alive in the Philippines, then there shouldn’t be any walls dividing the country’s rich and poor, no armed private armies patrolling subdivisions and guarding Seven Elevens, and no wide and deep gulf between the quality of public services enjoyed and suffered by the rich and poor respectively.

Would you leave your bicycle unchained on a Manila street corner while you duck into a store for even just two minutes to buy a soda? The answer to that question tells us what sort of society the Philippines really is. More disturbing is that it gives an indication of what small community initiatives that dole out free stuff — specially ones hopelessly politicised by dishonest partisan and terrorist camps — may ultimately become.

At the very least, Filipinos should be left to engage in good acts of contribution to civic life without these being hijacked to dishonest political ends. Community pantries are not “protest actions” as we are led to believe by “activists” and “thought leaders” of the Opposition. They are just Filipinos trying to do good to others within their small individual spaces. Your space is yours alone. Don’t let dishonest “activists” and, most specially, their terrorist henchmen take that away from you.

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19 Comments on “The whole trouble with #CommunityPantry initiatives in the Philippines”

  1. Since you mention social costs, you have to consider the other costs around this predicament and weigh them. Decisions cannot be about the simple problem of doling out and freeloading.

  2. The filipino race would seem to suggest that it is an unworthy specie to be propagated but continue to grow beyond what its resources could provide.

  3. The community pantries are not supposed to be for free. It works by people bringing in something in exchange for the stuff they got. Those treating it as ayuda are ruining the concept.

    Hmm, since this is an idea that was copied from foreign cultures, could we call it a product of colonial mentality? lol

    1. Filipinos need to work hard & think hard rather than depending on free stuffs like one from Community Pantry thing and it’ll fade away soon. But unfortunately many of us are still lazy, dumb and undisciplined that hinders the country’s development and to become a strong nation. If we couldn’t change our cultures and attitudes to bring Philippines a strong and greater nation, then what now? Will China invade us or will Thanos snap his finger so that all of the Filipinos and the rest of the Philippines would disappear for good?

      1. Hey, why not!!!

        Since our government isn’t willing to legalise abortion and loosen access to contraceptives!!!

        I’d like to see the Philippines’ population go down to the level of Australia’s or New Zealand’s….

    2. @Chino: Exactly. There is a reason they spring up only in crisis situations and are not seen as part of routine civic life in normal times (even if the Philippines had long been an impoverished society). It’s because most Filipinos see services that involve distributing free stuff as a one- rather than a two-way street.

  4. Wow look at the benign0 THE FOOL making an Ass of himself.

    This is the filipino people coming together amidst the COLLOSAL FAILURE of government.

    Why are you such a hateful person benign0?

    Was it because your mommy never loved you? Is it bec being a SHORT , stubby, pango brown man in Australia is depressing to you?

    Obviously Mr AUSTRALIA benign0 doesn’t know jack sh!t. Whining and complaining. LET THEM EAT CAKE am I right benign0?

    Why dont you STFU benign0… You make me sick!

      1. @benign0 the AUSTRALIAN fool

        I tried looking for a point or argument in your chi chi article shitting on the charity of good hearted pinoys who have stepped up in a time of crisis. Sadly I could not find any.

        Hope you feel proud of your article benign0. Youre so edgy and hip. LOL.

        1. I tried looking for a point or argument in your chi chi article shitting on the charity of good hearted pinoys who have stepped up in a time of crisis. Sadly I could not find any.

          So goes with your chi comment. You totally missed the point that community pantries are a good thing but they were used by the “activists” and the “Opposition” for their stupid politics.

          You’re using the charity of good hearted Pinoys for your own selfish interests. Am I correct?

        2. Darthy, why not try stepping up ‘ere Down Undah an’ show us what ye got!!!!

          If the crocs, spiders and dingoes don’t get you, how about the hordes of beered-up AFL hooligans, racist against Asians to a man????

  5. I think a problem is already starting now with the Community Pantry’s.

    1) Instead of being seen it as someone’s charity, it is being used as propaganda by Opposition/those against government, claiming it as a sign that the government is a failure.

    2) Because of #1, some in the admin (police /military specifically) called out those using the Community Pantry action for propaganda as “communists”. I don’t think they specifically said some Community Pantries are communists run, but correct me if I am wrong.

    3) There are now those who are expecting to get something from the Community Pantry.

    4) The first domino has fallen. Maginhawa Pantry has closed it’s “doors” because of supposed red-tagging. My understanding is #2 but they seem to think they are the ones being tagged as communists. So do please inform me if I am wrong.

    5) With #4, people are still lining up because of #3. But Maginhawa Pantry has decided to close. But news reports this morning are also saying they are still “accepting” donations???

    6) With #5, if it is happening, what happens now to the donations if Maginhawa Pantry does not open? Will those in #3 continue to patiently wait to receive from Maginhawa Pantry and other Community Pantries that decide to close their doors, for fear of red tagging, or because their charity initiative has ended? Or will they become more aggressive?

    My concern is there will be possible chaos in those community pantry sites as the might be those who would want to rush grab from them before they “might” close or “empty out”. Then when you have police presence/government presence for “crowd control” or dispersal, media will spin it excessive exercise of police power.

    I’m in a wait and see if this will just dissipate peacefully and be forgotten or if there will be escalation.

    1. When you try to put up a community pantry yet you’re pushing something annoyingly subversive like #AyudaNaSapat or #SerbisyongMedikal or #MassTestingNow, then it’s a bad idea.

      I even saw one of the community pantries holding this sign with a quote:

      “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

      That’s a Karl Marx quote. You know what that is.

    2. We’re already seeing this now when the Maginhawa Street pantry had to “temporarily close” due to alleged “heat” from all the “red-tagging” it allegedly suffered.

      The news report highlighted some of the people who were queued who said that they will continue to wait because they are now depending on these dole outs to put food on their table. While meeting this extreme need is supposedly the whole point of these community pantries, one wonders though how long this can be sustained considering the enormous number of people in the Philippines who lay claim to this neediness.

      1. I predict the Shawarma Effect for community pantries. It became a fad for a time, but it will fizzle out not because it was red-tagged, but because it is unsustainable and will be abused to the point that the organizers will give up.

        1. It’s not a question of abuse or about the organizers giving up because of it. It’s more about the availability of supplies they are willing to share. So no need to wonder. It’s a limited offer. Like every other marketing promo it will continue while supplies last. It’s simple, really

        2. If supplies run out, then it’s back to the normal way of getting things… work, business, the market. We’ll have to go back to that eventually. Community pantries are temporary novelty.

        3. Well, perhaps, some pantries may stay on, perhaps I was wrong to say it was unsustainable. But the possibility of it fizzling out is still there, and buying and selling with money will still be the normal.

          I laughed at the meme where a man mistook a store for a community pantry. lol

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