An anarchist reflection on the community pantry movement in the Philippines.
Written by Carolus Plebejus.
The year 2016 was the year in which an elected administration whose goal is to capitalize on growing mass distrust of the people against each other as its brand of fascistic populism has been seated. Ever since then, the Duterte administration has been gaslighting its own people for its own failures, rendering them as troublemakers, contrarians, and suspected narcotic abusers through its online armies of trolls, fanatics, and grandstanding spokespeople, apart from the president's own dirty mouth.
Four years later, then came the CoVID-19 pandemic. The antics of the administration worsened as it saw opportunity of power entrenchment from a global crisis. Society has been more divided and polarized. A Media Network has been shut down. An “Anti-Terror” legislation, that puts more suspicion on those who merely practice their civic duties, has been passed more seamlessly than much-needed pandemic response legislations. And a costly dolomite beach has been laid down on a yet-to-be rehabilitated dirtiest bay a Filipino has known for, for a ton of bucks that could have been spent on a pandemic response instead. But amidst the great dark, there's a tiny light of hope which caught attention that may as well prove what's left of innate trust of Filipinos to one another.
A year after community quarantines have been implemented, a direct action initiative has been born rooted on principles of mutual aid, and informed by the mantra of “tayo-tayo lang ang magtutulungan” (only us who can help each other) in a sea of prevalent distrust, and absence of sufficient aid from the Government. The said initiative is called “Community Pantry.” This was first done in Maginhawa, Quezon City where 26-year old Ann Patricia Non, a local of the said area, set up a community pantry where people can leave and get food items for free according to ability and need respectively as asked through an oversized writing on a carton cardboard saying “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan”
(Give what you can, take what you need) without judgment but ‘mutual trust.’ With so many replications of such community effort and counting, it proves to be successful!
Photo by AP Non/Ann Patricia Non, retrieved from Facebook.
Community Pantry as a Mutual Aid and Direct Action
“Mutual aid” is an organizational theory coined by Russian anarchist theorist Peter Kropotkin. He argued that voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit has been an ancient practice. It is ancient as human culture itself where through such cooperation, it has been a driving mechanism of human evolution throughout the ages including those of distraught. A very fitting example of distraught would be this CoVID-19 pandemic further aggravated by the shortcomings and deliberate actions of the Duterte Administration. The ‘Bayanihan’ spirit that our ancestors practiced is one manifestation of mutual aid as well.
With mutual aid as a direct action, it only tells that there must be perceived community problems that are not addressed by traditional societal institutions such as governments, enterprises, religious organizations, trade unions, and various other civil society organizations. It further suggests that only through mutual aid done as a direct engagement of the community itself can these problems be addressed. Because appealing to others and waiting for intervention from ‘distant’ traditional societal institutions is no longer relevant. Especially in a situation where, despite repeated appeals, no adequate intervention came at a time when it is most needed. As a result, the community is already suffering too much. So a direct action is needed while the community is still able to help itself, especially those individuals in it who suffer the most. It is a perfect depiction of “From the Masses, for the Masses” type of self-governance that is naturally-occurring. This is especially seen in a situation that lacks good governance so desperately needed from socially-constructed institutions and legal systems that continue to fail to deliver.
Community pantries are informed by thoughts that say it is only through community solidarity — not just charity — can we brave the dark days of the pandemic with so little to no financial assistance given by the government, people losing their jobs, and people risking a lot just not to lose their ‘bread and butter.’ Organizers have acknowledged that it is even way harder to work, study, and fight every single day while the stomach growls. Efforts such as community pantries reduce the number of people suffering from hunger especially in the middle of a pandemic (although it cannot solve mass hunger altogether).
Restoring the culture of trust through solidarity
The community pantry also elicits a returned sense of trust by first showing the first steps of trusting strangers in need. Small wooden pantries, monoblock tables, or chairs that organizers provide for strangers to place their goods and get these goods from reveal a capability to help by providing a conduit for them to reach each other out.
What strikes most is the cardboard writings asking people for their generosity and trust, without judgment, suspicion, and other pretenses. It elicits a presumption of trust, that only through it can we help one another and ourselves. With overwhelming reception, it proves how capable Filipinos still are of trusting one another despite the toxicity, division, and general distrust that sought wreckage of our social interactions for years. Rather than to gaslight each other with divisive accusations of “katamaran-palamunin”/lazy dependency, “pasaway”/naughtiness, “kadamutan”/elitism, and others.
Little by little, these small displays of solidarity will contribute to social healing by inspiring others to take part in mutual aid efforts, and confide — once again — to one another. Reminding themselves of the ‘bayanihan’ spirit we once inherited from our forebears, in rejection of the status quo that we have found ourselves in as a ‘land of distrust.’