Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the Philippines, “bayanihan” has been a mainstay of Filipino culture, especially in the provinces. As someone who spent my youth in the province, I am not surprised whenever the friendly neighbors come over to our place to offer some of their food during the fiesta or Noche Buena or Media Noche or their excess harvest of fruits and vegetables. We also offer to assistance to our kabarangay during special occasions such as weddings and birthday parties, and wakes and wedding parties, and even when sending off family members to work in Manila or abroad or when they are moving to new barangay as long as it is not that far away.
That is perhaps the reason why I was quite amused by the reaction of those in Metro Manila when community pantries began to sprout like wild plants in many corners of the big city, especially the hype provided to them, in particular those organized by Ana Patricia Non and several other personalities whose political position is quite obvious, by the partisan press. It is like as if the high and mighty people of Metro Manila have never experienced any sense of bayanihan within their lifetime until the appearance of community pantries. Poor souls if that was indeed their case.
Then we also have the various types of financial assistance, better known in Tagalog as “ayuda”, being extended to those who are in need due to partially or fully lost job and business opportunities as a result of the government-imposed lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19. Spearheaded mainly by the national government and local governments, the goal of the “ayuda” was to provide temporary financial relief while waiting for ways for them to return to work or find new jobs or start new businesses. The “ayuda” can be in the form of monetary assistance or, in the case of some local government, material assistance such as bags full of rice, canned goods and other necessary items.
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However, as expected, some Filipinos pushed the envelope further by using the community pantries and the “ayuda” to pursue their self-serving agenda.
The community pantry was used by some as a propaganda tool against the government. Some organizers set up community pantries, deliberately made desperate people line up and generate long cues, and call their friends from the partisan press to make it appear that the government is making life hard for the people through the lockdowns despite the fact that the government itself is already sending out aid and there is an existing ban on mass gatherings to control the spread the COVID-19. Being the makakapal ang mukha individuals that they are, some even used the community pantries for posturing in time for the 2022 general elections, with them, although in a subtle way, sending out the message that they have the intention to seek elective office and those whom they “helped” should notice and perhaps vote for them.
The same goes with the “ayuda”. Akin to what happened to the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) conditional cash grants, the “ayuda” is now on the verge of being institutionalized both by the leftists and the traditional politicians, with both of them demanding that the government grant each family a one-time cash grant of P10,000 without providing a poposed pathway for the state to fund their caprice. A traditional politician, a notorious Bible-quoting political butterfly who used to be an ally of the previous administration but, until he was deposed from his high government post, is claiming to be a “Duterte supporter”, spent millions of pesos to buy air time at prime schedules at GMA-7 just to demand that Congress approve a bill, and, perhaps indirectly, President Rodrigo Duterte sign it into law, that would grant an “ayuda” of P10,000 to each Filipino family (that guy should have just used the money that he paid to place ads on Felipe Gozon’s television network to fulfill his goal of giving P10,000 “ayuda” per family instead of charging the “ayuda” on middle class taxpayers and ordinary businesses).
The community pantries and “ayuda” showed the ugly truth about Philippine politics and Filipinos themselves. In terms of politics, they provided convenient vehicles for those who have an agenda to present themselves as viable choices as national or local leaders because “they can give financial and material need and hope to the ‘poor’ and ‘desperate.'” It also exposed Filipinos’ love for anything that is a free, a manifestation of institutionalized mendicancy and lack of sense of personal responsibility, which the politicos take advantage of since patronage politics is still alive and well in 21st century Philippines, especially at the local level.
Instead of community pantries and “ayuda,” what the Philippines and Filipinos need are opportunities to earn money and stand on their own. This can be done by safely re-opening the economy, and removing protectionist policies in order to create new job and business opportunities, especially in the provinces. Maybe the effect will not be felt immediately but this is a more decent, more stable and more long-term solution compared to Band Aid community pantries and “ayuda”.
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