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[IRL] Political Pantries

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Those who lived through the first EDSA Revolution, recall the sharing of food. A lot came from the well-stocked kitchens of the gated enclaves, and the modest storefronts of the petit bourgeoisie, which were along or proximate to the highway. Some 35 years after, that first EDSA Revolution has been downgraded to a mere “mass event.” Saul Alinsky, whose Rules for Radicals, is relevant half a century thence, reminds us that “…revolution must be preceded by reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive, without the supporting base of a popular reformation, is to ask for the impossible in politics. . . A revolution without a prior reformation would collapse, or become a totalitarian dynasty.” We look back on Malacañan’s occupants then and now, and cannot honestly say, “Been there, done that,” in revolutionary terms at least.

Today’s community pantries resonate as a revolution in ordinary time: no Panzer tanks, but a humble bamboo trolley. The original Maginhawa Pantry struck a chord which has reverberated among over a thousand similar pantries nationwide. There are variants such as PAWntries for pet needs, even PLANTries for wannabe plantitas. Despite the red-tagging by NTF-ELCAC biggies, many political epal quickly got into the act. Inday Sara’s minions were conspicuously early donors to the Maginhawa Pantry. MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialago showed up at copycat pantries by various LGU officials with their names all over the tarps and tents. After Baby River’s death last October 2020, ASec. Pialago had sneered “Masyado ninyong ginagawang pang-drama-seryes sa hapon ang panghihinagpis niya,” referring to the bereaved political prisoner Reina Mae Nacino’s harrowing ordeal through bureaucratic hell, just to attend her 3-month old baby’s wake and funeral.

The Maginhawa Pantry moved to the Barangay Hall at 108 Maginhawa Street and has transformed into a hub “for a more organized and efficient distribution.” Among its distribution spokes is the nearby Matatag Community Pantry which serves between 400 to 700 daily. The simple bantay and security guard of an empty idle building along Matatag, got caught up in the good going on around them, and with uncommon initiative, had allowed the mounting donations to be stored in the ground floor. UP Prof. Herbie Docena, one of the first Community Pantry volunteers, recounted: “We now had a comfortable and convenient space not just to receive and repack goods, but also to get to know each other better, to hold debates, even to dance together--in short, to begin building a real community.” Until April 30 that is, when as Prof. Docena put it: “The forces of property struck back.

The building administrator unexpectedly arrived and ejected the Matatag CP. The administrator would not reveal who owned the building or allow the Matatag CP volunteers speak with the owners by phone. Rumor has it the idle building had been constructed using pork barrel funds which would actually make it government or public property.

The Matatag CP was not undone. BAYAN [Bagong Alyansang Makabayan] was in the next building and many were CP volunteers. The displaced Matatag CP was granted temporary, if much smaller, storage and distribution space. Bayan Muna Partylist members who happened to be visiting during the eviction, helped to move 20 sacks of rice, over 100 kilos of vegetables, boxes of diapers, etc.. Prof. Docena laughs: “The pantry is really prefigurative in so many ways. Imagine that: "RAs" (Re-affirm JMS) and "RJs" (Reject JMS) banding together in an emergency!”

Odious and baseless red-tagging aside, even the peaceable Henry David Thoreau in his essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, declared that “All men recognize the right of revolution: that is the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency [underscoring supplied] are great and unendurable.” Of seeds of change like the Maginhawa and Matatag Community Pantries, he might have written: “For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done, is done forever.”

The Community Pantries per se may not be sustainable, but as for the changes these have wrought, to paraphrase Rupaul: Shantay, these stay.

Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.

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