By now, we all probably know the story. In Maginhawa Street, Quezon City, a small cart of goods was placed at a conspicuous spot and was labelled: “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan”. 

Goods are given by those who can and the community lines up to receive only what they need. Everyone praying to ease or be eased of worry. This is the daily act of fellowship of the community. All acting with all in mind.

In a span of a week, multiple areas across the country have done the same, mostly bearing the statement: “Inspired by Maginhawa Community Pantry.” If you are looking for proof of bayanihan, don’t look for it from belabored, pointless, meaningless slogans and campaigns from the government. Look here. Look for it among the ordinary and powerless.

It is worth stating categorically that the Duterte administration has failed on a massive scale in the handling of this health crisis. Only a fool or a blind loyalist would refute that. 

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still ill-equipped with the necessary health measures and infrastructures to slow community transmission. We are in a constant state of uncertainty, as if waiting in purgatory – anxiously asking when, not if, we will be infected with the virus.

But for most Filipinos, the risk of infection has taken a back seat when everyday they are faced with dwindling food stocks as a result of the repetitive and fruitless lockdowns. I won’t pretend to completely understand how it feels. I can only try to imagine.

Perhaps this is where the rise of Community Pantries have been borne out of: our inherent ability to imagine ourselves in someone else’s life and empathize with their struggles; the recognition of one’s privilege, the want to help, to chip in, to share the load. These community pantries try to fill the gigantic and numerous gaps in government’s responsibility to aid the vulnerable sectors.

The idea of sharing and pooling resources to help the less privileged is not a new idea, of course. If only our taxes had been spent more judiciously, existing systems would have worked similarly, even reached wider beneficiaries. Yet, we are stuck with inept and corrupt officials, incompetently handling our public funds. So, once again, we are left to fend for ourselves.

On top of that is the risk of being red-tagged and labelled insurgents. It is already happening. 

The organizer of the Maginhawa community pantry, Ana Patricia Non, the one who started it all, was recently forced to close it temporarily fearing for her life after incidents of police profiling and red-tagging. 

Even now, as my friends prepare to roll out our own community pantry, we need to pre-empt and look into possible sources of defense. It is ridiculous that people who just want to help are forced to risk their safety from their own government – the very institution whose failures made all these initiatives start in the first place.

Power hungry people distrust acts of generosity like community pantries because they have used it successfully as a front for their greed. They cannot believe powerful movements can sprout without hidden agenda or political machinery. So, they will make up an enemy to justify their paranoia.

Here I also underscore the reality of this initiative: while no doubt it is inspiring and massively helpful for the time being, the reach will likely remain limited and insufficient due to the lack of infrastructures and systems. Even established public and private institutions took years to develop this. I can only hope the speed at which we have organized this movement will also carry over into its breadth and maturity.

But regardless of the scale at which this movement can reach, I celebrate most of all its most potent effect. Though realistically it might not completely provide for everyone, it has no doubt been one of if not the most powerful act of protest we have made against the complete lack of urgency and incompetence of the Duterte administration. 

It has magnified government inaction. And it will hopefully make more people realize that the change that we were looking for in the 2016 elections does not come from a man-child whose words have scammed the nation, but from our collective power to help our communities and hold those at the top accountable. 

It has ignited hope. It has inspired compassion. It has reminded us of the power of communities. 

As we do this daily communion, let it be our reminder that we deserve better. Amen.