Without order and proper coordination, the organizers of the community pantries—even those with the best of intentions—are doomed to fail, especially in our current condition.
The country is still under different levels of lockdown, with Metro Manila, Laguna, Bulacan, Cavite, and Rizal under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ)—the second-strictest quarantine—as we try to contain the spread of the Covid-19 and give our health system a breather.
We all know that the most important aspect of this is the observance of health protocols, particularly the wearing of face mask and face shield and physical distancing. This is also the main reason why those behind these community pantries need to coordinate with concerned local and national government agencies, so they can assist and ensure that health protocols are being followed.
This is where the government and private sector can work hand in hand in ensuring the success of these community pantries. The goal should not be just to give aid to the poor, but also to prevent people from being infected.
Let me say this again: Not all good deeds, no matter how sincere and noble the intention is, will bear good things, if they are not done properly. Even the Bible says, (1Co 14:40) “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Community pantries are being set up on the streets and oftentimes under the scorching heat of the sun. Naturally, people will be drawn to these, which is why we are seeing long lines of people, even if they will only get a handful of food items.
If not coordinated properly with authorities, the organizers could just be putting people in a position where they would violate health protocols, and this definitely will not help contain the spread of the virus. You have distributed food but you also helped spread the virus. The negative outweighs the positive.
I can’t understand why some organizers wouldn’t want proper coordination with the barangays and the local governments just to ensure order and observance of health protocols.
Are they competing with the government?
Take, for instance, the case of the community pantry set up by actress Angel Locsin in Quezon City on April 23. The chairman of Barangay Holy Spirit and Mayor Joy Belmonte both said there was no proper coordination. An open invitation to the public was made on social media, so naturally, thousands of people lined up for several hours despite the heat. It turned out that only 300 food packs would be given away. When the people learned about this, they became unruly and started to mass around or near Ms. Locsin and the organizers. So there goes social distancing. The saddest part was the death of a senior citizen, who collapsed as he tried to brave the heat and the long line of people just to get a few hundred pesos worth of food items.
Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and I discussed this in our radio program over DZAR last Saturday morning. We shared the frustration on why this was announced via the social media of Ms. Locsin that has around 21 million followers all over the country when she would only distribute food packs to 300 people in a single area.
The lesson from this is glaring: proper coordination.
On the part of the government authorities, especially the Intelligence community, I believe that it would be better if they operate in a clandestine manner in determining which among these community pantries are being initiated as a propaganda drive by leftist groups against the government.
Approaching the organizers directly, even if there is no strong evidence to pin them down as communist fronts, will only court criticisms and create animosity as what is happening now.
Also, if indeed there are subversive and anti-government materials being posted and distributed in some of these community pantries, the authorities should be able to catch them in flagrante. If caught in the act, these people will no longer claim they are just being red-tagged. Assign secret agents to observe clandestinely and then catch them while doing the illegal acts. This will ensure the community pantries are not being infiltrated or used by communist groups.
The national and local governments have limited resources, but they are still trying their best to distribute aid in the form of cash and food packs to the indigents. We in the private sector also have limited resources, and we are also trying our best to provide relief to our neighbors.
But please, let’s not compete with the government.
In setting up these community pantries, the goal should be complementation and not competition.
If we do this, the limited resources of both the government and the private sector will serve more people.
Dr. Jesus Lim Arranza is the chairman of the Federation of Philippine Industries and Fight Illicit Trade; a broad-based, multisectoral movement intended to protect consumers, safeguard government revenues and shield legitimate industries from the ill effects of smuggling.