Started a few weeks ago by volunteers in one community in Metro Manila, setting up a table filled with vegetables, fruits and other foodstuff where the poor can get what they urgently need, the ‘community pantry’ motto of “Give what you can, take what you need” has become a country-wide phenomenon, inspiring hundreds of community pantries to spring up all over the Philippines.

The innovator of the community pantry, 26-year-old Ana Patricia Non, started in Maginhawa Street in her Quezon City neighborhood on 14 April. She reports that 350 community pantries have now been organized all over the Philippines. Some claim the number as high as 700, community pantries springing up as far north as Aparri in Cagayan Valley province and as far south as Zamboanga City, in Mindanao Island. Community residents volunteer money, food and manpower for the community pantries, while people gravely affected by unemployment, poverty and hunger queue up for much-needed relief.

On 19 April, however, Duterte government officials, led by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, questioned the motives of Ms. Non and the community volunteers. Gen. Parlade said the government is checking the background of organizers for possible links to the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Parlade and Badoy are spokespersons of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

The allegations prompted Ms. Non to close her community pantry for a few days. Public backlash against the Duterte officials however, coupled with snowballing support, encouraged her reopening. Parliamentarians have called out against the NTF-ELCAC’s red-tagging, saying the rise of the community pantries is a sign of the people’s desperation in the face of government’s failure to support Filipinos affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Filipino communities abroad are also supporting the community pantries, sending money to relatives and friends in the Philippines to make their contributions. The Federal Republic of Germany, through its embassy in Manila, donated foodstuff to Ms. Non’s community pantry. “Deeply impressed by the solidarity spirit of the Filipinos. Great respect for the volunteers and the initiative,” twitted German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel.