By Marivir R. Montebon
Love and share – it is what people should do, I believe, in face of this pandemic. We Filipinos call it bayanihan or pagtambayayong or pagtinabangay. The informal structure of friendship and family is strong in the Philippines as a way to survive vis-a-vis the long-standing inadequacy of public services and government corruption.
A few days ago, I felt emotional at the initiatives of Filipinos who shared their extra food from their own kitchen and home gardens to other people in their neighborhood. It was touching. I cried and shared one story on my FB page and clicked ‘loved’ on similar posts.
As a writer, I regard this pragmatism as the triumph of the spirit. I have never been so inspired with the popping up of community pantries on social media. The misery created by poverty and the pandemic have been assuaged with love and support for each other, through these community pantries.
Then came the Philippine military who red-tagged the young Filipina – Ana Patricia Non – for initiating a community pantry in her neighborhood in Quezon City that inspired everyone else to do the same. It was senseless as it was cruel. Even this shining act of love and concern is labeled ‘communist-inspired.’
I wouldn’t waste time debating with anyone about communism as an ideology or political theory. In the Philippines, if you are tagged as a communist, it could mean your death or isolation because of the fear that it creates among people. Thus, when Ms. Non was being red-tagged for creating a community pantry, I was angry and worried. Military men, why do you do this? I cried out.
Filipinos have naturally found a way to survive this pandemic, as they do during calamities such as typhoons that pummel the land about 24 times per year. I say that typhoons visit the Philippines twice a month, like the 15-30 payday, that people are so used to it. Holding on tight, knowing that after a storm the sun will shine again. Such resilience.
So to me, red-tagging doesn’t work. It is a worn-out way of government scapegoating from the real problems of poverty, inequality, lame leadership, and corruption in the Philippines. Thankfully, people have continued to support each other through their community pantries.
As for the Philippine military and police taking dominion during these critical times, I pray that the civilian government came to its wits and changed the composition of the Task Force attending to pandemic concerns of health, food, and safety.
The Philippines has ranked lowest in handling the pandemic in Asia because instead of medical experts, scientists, and community managers, Pres. Duterte has put military generals as top leaders. They have not responded efficiently for the people at all.
The people have long been left out by the Philippine government. So to survive, let a thousand community pantries bloom in my motherland. I am proud and grateful for everyone’s inspiration. I have been encouraging my friends and family there. Please keep on keeping on.
In New York, there is also a bayanihan spirit that’s happening during the pandemic. We in the community (friends and family) have taken an organized initiative to purchase bulk meals, coffee, and pastries from Filipino restaurants and deliver them to frontliner doctors and nurses at the hospitals.
Called coffee run and meals that heal, this community effort, a Filipino ingenuity, has actually helped Filipino restaurants in Queens and Manhattan to survive despite slow business operations. The nurses and medical staff were truly grateful too, because they didn’t have time to run out of the hospital for their coffee and meals, especially during the height of emergency cases. It made all of us doing it feel good. It takes very little to share, but if everyone does it, it will go a long way, it saves the day!
This pandemic made me look back at Jesus Christ’s sermon on the mountain. The little boy who came to him and offered his loaves of bread and fish was an initiative born from a generous heart. He said his mother prepared a lot of food for him which he could not finish.
After that, everyone in the multitude pitched in. And so, that was how Jesus was able to apportion food for everyone and there was more than enough for everyone! Jesus fed the multitude, yes, and the people did their part too – generously giving what little they have. He showed the people the way to save themselves – by giving and sharing.
The community pantries in the Philippines is a reflection of such a generous heart. I am forever inspired. Kindness is a shining weapon against this bleak pandemic.#