Philippines: Organizer Closes Community Pantry amid Accusations of Communist Links

Marielle Lucenio
Manila
2021-04-20
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Philippines: Organizer Closes Community Pantry amid Accusations of Communist Links Filipinos collect free food and other goods offered at a community pantry in the Maginhawa neighborhood of Quezon City, April 19, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A community-run pantry providing free food to the Philippine public amid the COVID-19 pandemic was forced to shut down Tuesday after its founder said she feared for her safety after being accused as a sympathizer of communist rebels.

Activist and artist Ana Patricia Non, 26, said she took the action after three police officers approached her and demanded her cellular phone number. 

“We’ll temporarily shut down our operations for the safety of our volunteers. This is disheartening because we will be unable to distribute the goods that we prepared the whole day due to red-tagging,” Non said.

Red-tagging is a term activists use when law enforcers accuse groups or individuals of being communist rebels or supporters of the long-running leftist insurgency in the Philippines.

“I am afraid to walk by myself to the community pantry at 5 in the morning because of this baseless accusation,” she said. “I just really wanted to help.” 

Non launched the roadside pantry earlier this month in Quezon City, north of Manila, after seeing similar initiatives in other countries affected by the global pandemic. 

People had been lining up on the curbside of the busy street since she and other volunteers began leaving boxes of food and other essential items gathered from donors in the neighborhood.

Barely a week old, the pantry inspired other community efforts nationwide.

Allegation of communist link

But it also attracted detractors.

Among them, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a government agency, attacked the pantry as being a brainchild of communist insurgents, but did not offer any proof.

“The community pantry is for the town, do not use it for personal gain,” the task force said in a social media post.

It went on to allege that the pantry was backed by the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, its military wing, the New People’s Army, and its political wing, the National Democratic Front, to receive money and to recruit youths to their cause.

The local police district in Quezon City shared the task force’s post on its Facebook page before it was deleted, according to the Rappler website.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said she had reached out to Non and assured her that she and her pantry would be safe. 

Philippine National Police chief Gen. Debold Sinas issued a statement declaring there was no order for officers to profile organizers of the community pantry. 

“It is beyond the interest of the PNP to delve into purely voluntary personal activities of private citizens,” he said, even as he reminded people to observe health protocols related to COVID-19.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government to stop the accusations. Community outreach programs have sprouted because of “perceived inadequate response” by Manila to help its citizens, HRW said.

“By vilifying now even ordinary Filipinos who only want to help, the government is weaponizing ‘red-tagging’ to instill fear among the general public that is increasingly agitated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Carlos Conde, the Philippine researcher for HRW.

“Many of those red-tagged have ended up harmed or killed,” Conde said in a statement. 

Since 1969, the Philippines has been fighting one of the world’s longest-running communist insurgencies.

President Rodrigo Duterte ended talks with the Communist Party after self-exiled rebel leader Jose Maria Sison turned down offers to return to the country and personally negotiate for peace. Duterte has said talks would not be revived before the end of his term in 2022.

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