Bayanihan in the Maginhawa Community Pantry

by Perry Diaz

Little did 26-year-old Ana Patricia Non realize that by organizing a bamboo makeshift food bank on a street would make her a celebrity and, ironically, at the same time put her in hot water.  All she did was bring to life the time-tested Filipino “bayanihan spirit” of helping people in need.

It all began on April 14, 2021 when Ana Patricia Non installed the pantry on Maginhawa St. in Teachers’ Village, Diliman, Quezon City, just a block away from where I lived before coming to the US in 1970.

She stocked it with 800 pesos (US$16.50) worth of groceries. She chose to install the community pantry on Maginhawa St. because of what the street name means.  It means “comfortable, convenient, full of ease, and full of relief” in Tagalog.

Word of mouth spread quickly, which caused donations such as rice, vegetables, eggs, canned goods, biscuits, drinks, medicines, and other essential items to arrive. Eventually, the organizers were given the free use of a warehouse to be used as the distribution hub for the donated products.

It’s interesting to note that she placed a sign on the tree behind her makeshift pantry, which said, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” “Give what you can, get what you need.” It encouraged others to do the same and the ripple effect reached other parts of the country.

Who is Ana Patricia Non?
Patreng as she is called by her friends works as a furniture designer.  She graduated from the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts with a major in Visual Communication. She is a member of the UP Artists’ Circle Fraternity and Sorority. She has a gregarious personality with a contagious smile. A natural leader, service to others is her second nature.

The Maginhawa Community Pantry is not the first time Patreng organized a project to help out people affected by the pandemic. Last July, she organized a “bigas (rice) drive” with her fraternity and sorority. She is charismatic and one of her best qualities is her passion to unite people. She inspires people.

When asked why she founded the community pantry, she said that all she ever wanted was to give the people who have nothing to have at least something to eat to surpass their hunger. It’s natural for her to do so.

Bad News
A week after Non started the community pantry, the bad news came. The Quezon City Police Department (QCPD) posted on social media that community pantries were communist propaganda. On the same day, the National Task Force Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) posted that community pantries are being linked to communist groups. It also accused the community pantries of being used to recruit soldiers for the communist New People’s Army. President Duterte formed NTF-ELCAC in his fight against communists.

Although communism is not illegal in the Philippines, a new anti-terrorism law allows authorities to brand communists as terrorists. Now, you can see the metamorphosis from community pantry to communist party to terrorists.

On April 20, Non was asked during a virtual media meeting by GMA news broadcaster Tina Panganiban-Perez, “Just to set the record straight, so what there would be no doubts about you, do you really have links to a communist group until now, or have you ever had [in the past]? What is the basis for your red-tagging?”

Red-tagging is the malicious blacklisting of individuals or organizations critical or not fully supportive of the actions of a sitting government administration. They are “tagged” as either a communist or terrorist or both.  Many progressive civil group leaders are implicated to heinous crimes.  Suspects are shot dead by soldiers and the police.

“I don’t have links to the Communist party, and I’m sorry, but that is such a dirty question. Because the last thing I have to explain to people is who I am because my intentions are clear. I want to set up the community pantry so that people can eat,” Non said.

But an NTF-ELCAC official declared that there were “no hungry people in the Philippines.” Can anyone believe that? Gee, people are dying from hunger every single day!

Patreng, fearing for her life and her volunteers’ lives, closed the community pantry after three policemen showed up armed with assault rifles. They demanded Patreng’s personal details and asked which organization she belonged to. The harassment had begun.

The shutdown set off a wave of public outrage. The National Police Chief General Debold Sinas lauded the community pantry as “an expression of Bayanihan spirit” while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said no matter what Non’s political beliefs were, “If she is helping with her heart, we will support it (because) kindness is everyone’s color.”

When Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte found out about the QCPD’s interference, she assured Non that community organizers in her locality would be in safe hands. The QCPD also apologized and has been subjected to a formal investigation. She announced that community pantries did not need permits and offered to send workers to enforce social distancing. She also revealed that in less than a week, 70 community pantries had sprung up in her city.

The show of support encouraged Non to reopen the community pantry after a day.  She realized that hungry people needed her pantry and she reopened it in spite of the dangerous situation.  But the harassment continued.

Communist front
On April 22, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, chief of the military’s Southern Luzon Command and who also serves as spokesman of the NTF-ELCAC, said that Non was “deceiving people the way Satan would.”

“Why are these community pantries sprouting all over all of a sudden? Why do they have a single theme?” Parlade said.  He then compared Ana Patricia Non to Satan. “Patricia is one person, right? Same with Satan. Satan gave Eve an apple. That’s how it all started.”

The truth is: It started because of the hunger that the Filipino people have experienced. And it took one person to mobilize people to help fight hunger.  Is it Satan’s work or is it manna from Heaven? I believe it’s manna from Heaven. It reminds me of the biblical story of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitude with a boy’s offering of five loaves and two fish, which fed hundreds of people.

This started the speculation that Non is linked and connected with communist groups. Thus began the red-tagging of Non and volunteers of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, which is being spread as a “communist party” front.

But the bad publicity has made Patreng and the Maginhawa Community Pantry organizers heroes whose selfless and humanitarian endeavors have attracted thousands of volunteers across the country to help their fellow kababayans fight hunger and poverty. It also encouraged those who have means to donate to the community pantries. As a matter of fact, Patreng’s bamboo makeshift stand on a sidewalk has grown so much that it moved indoors to the barangay hall a block away.

One day at a time
However, Non is pragmatic about the future of community pantries.

“Eventually donations will die down. Donors will get tired. And that’s okay; community pantries are not meant to solve poverty and hunger; it’s just meant to get us through one day at a time.”

But she has started something where government relief agencies could step in to take over the task of feeding the hungry. It’s now a movement and it’s expanding from community to community, from town to town, from city to city, and from province to province. And all has the hallmark of Ana Patricia Non, an unpretentious young woman whose only goal was to feed her neighbors around Maginhawa Street. But words spread like lightning and pretty soon it had taken a life of its own.

It’s amazing how a good deed could inspire others to do the same. Patreng, whose simple act of kindness sparked a nationwide movement, has unwittingly become a legend.

And now we have community pantries as far as Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao, and Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte in the north. Donations came from other countries as well. The German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel went to the Maginhawa Community Pantry to contribute. Also, Gerald Anderson, a Filipino-American actor, was recently seen leading a “floating community pantry” organized by the Philippine Coast Guard.

But like all good deeds, there are those who are evil-minded and would try to discredit the do-gooders.  But as someone once said, “Evil prevails when good men do nothing.”  Patreng has brought out the good – nay the best — in the Filipino people.  I salute Ana Patricia Non for starting the Maginhawa Community Pantry that has ignited the Filipinos’ desire to work together in the spirit of Bayanihan.

Now, if we can get her to open a vaccination center, which would be another good service project for Patreng.

PERRY DIAZ is a writer, columnist and journalist who has been published in more than a dozen Filipino newspapers in five countries.

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