Senators on Tuesday slammed law enforcement groups and called for the end to the profiling and red-tagging of organizers of community pantries that have sprouted in various parts of the country.

“The profiling of organizers must stop. It puts people’s lives in danger, knowing how notorious some police, military officers, and personnel are in red-tagging progressives and now civic-minded citizens who only want to do good for their fellow men and women,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan and Grace Poe in a joint statement.

“Bakit hindi tanungin ng mga pulis ang kanilang pamilya at kamag-anak kung ano ba talaga ang pakay ng mga community pantry na ito? Malamang, marami silang kakilala na nakipila rin dito at naramdaman ang kabutihan ng kanilang kapwa Pilipino,” they added.

The senators said the “harassment and intimidation of those involved in these relief efforts exacerbate the hunger and hardships of our citizens.”

“We condemn these acts,” they said.

Community pantries have been popping out in various areas in the country in imitation of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, a small bamboo cart with donated food items and other essential goods for the needy affected by the lockdowns imposed to contain the pandemic.  It was set up by Ana Patricia Non in her community in Maginhawa St., Quezon City.

The lawmakers stressed that “hunger is the problem, which these relief efforts directly address.”

“Imbes na pahirapan, pagbawalan, at ipasarado, tulungan na lang dapat ng PNP ang mga local government units na siguraduhing napapatupad ang minimum health protocols sa mga community pantries.”

In a tweet, Senator Nancy Binay said she sympathizes with Non for getting red-tagged simply for helping the poor.  She also slammed those who red-tagged Non by asking what they did to help the poor.

“My heart goes to Patreng (Ana Patricia Non), who has been maliciously red-tagged for having a heart for the poor. Ganyan na ba ka-paranoid na pati ang pagtulong sa kapwa ay minamasama? Anong ambag n’yo?”

‘Anong ambag nyo’ is the usual quip of Duterte’s supporters against the president’s critics.

In a separate statement, Senator Koko Pimentel said “private initiatives to help the public should be kept that way, private” and that “there should be minimum or no government involvement.”

“The role of government is to remind people of health protocols, be on the sidelines ready to help maintain order, in case needed, and leave the community pantries alone,” he said.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Non said the Maginhawa community pantry will be temporarily halted due to fears for her and her companions safety amid the red-tagging they were receiving.

She included screenshots of several social media posts accusing them of links with communist groups.

One of the screenshots showed that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict shared posts saying that community pantries are being used for propaganda of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

On Tuesday, however, Non said the Maginhawa community pantry will continue and even urged her critics to join or establish their own community pantry in their respective neighborhoods.

“Tutuloy po namin kasi mas marami ang nangangailangan kaysa sa nagbabatikos,” said during an online press conference Tuesday.

“Hindi ko rin kina-cancel out ‘yung mga nagbabatikos. Instead, welcome na welcome sila sa community pantry ng Maginhawa o kung saan sila. Kung hindi naman kaya, mas maganda kung magtayo sila para first-hand experience,” she added.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Debold Sinas said the PNP had no orders for police officers to profile the organizers of community pantries.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also said in a statement that he has not ordered the PNP to look into the community pantries around the country.

He said that as long as the community pantries’ intentions are “good and without political color, it should be encouraged and supported.”

“Since this is a purely voluntary and private initiative, we should not interfere except to ensure that minimum health standards are complied with,” he said.

He added that the PNP and/or local officials will only come in if they received complaints from the community, there is any violation of the law, or if the organizers seek their help. – Rommel F. Lopez