Authorities deny profiling of community pantry organizers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — The Philippine National Police on Tuesday refuted reports about organizers of community pantries being profiled by its personnel.

"There is no order from the National Headquarters to conduct any form of profiling of organizers of community pantries," PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas said in a statement.

He said the PNP is aware that community pantries are an expression of bayanihan, and the police have no intention to interfere "but to serve the best interest of law and order and public safety in such public activities."

"Of particular consideration is the observance of public health standards when there is gathering of ten or more persons that builds up a crowd," he added.

On Monday evening, the organizer of the Maginhawa community pantry announced a temporary halt of operations due to safety concerns after alleged red-tagging activities by the police. 

Patricia Non said three policemen asked for her phone number and supposed organization, lamenting similar experiences of other community pantries. She has since sought the help of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte on the matter.

"Early today, I reached out to Ms. Non and discussed her concerns about her safety and security. I have requested QCPD District Director Brigadier General Antonio Yarra to conduct an investigation regarding Ms. Non's apprehensions and earlier experiences," Belmonte said in a statement.

The mayor also said she will meet with Station 9 Commander Police LtCol. Imelda Reyes, under which jurisdiction Maginhawa falls, to further discuss Non's security concerns.

Belmonte assured the public that the city's Task Force Disiplina and barangay leaders have been providing assistance in maintaining minimum public health protocols and crowd control in the Maginhawa community pantry. They have been instructed to the do same in other community pantries in the city, she added.

Meanwhile, the National Privacy Commission flagged concerns over the alleged profiling of community pantry organizers, with authorities allegedly seeking their personal data such as email addresses, Facebook account names, and family backgrounds.

"We would like to emphasize that collecting personal data must be done fairly and lawfully with respect to the rights of a data subject, including the rights to be informed and object," Privacy Commissioner Raymond Enriquez Liboro said.

The Commission also urged the PNP Data Protection Office to look into these reports and take appropriate measures to prevent any police activity that may harm citizens and violate their rights. It likewise encouraged individuals to coordinate with the said PNP office on the matter, also noting the NPC had not received any complaints on it as of late.

"Suffice it to say that a person voluntarily doing an act of kindness and compassion toward his neighbor should be left alone," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra responded when asked whether the alleged profiling of community pantry organizes violate their right to privacy.

Guevarra also noted that it is not proper for law enforcers to interrogate anyone "unless there is reason to believe that he is violating any law, ordinance, rule or regulation for the good or welfare of the community."

For his part, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it is "ill-advised" and "even deplorable" for police officers to suspect people involved in community pantries as engaging in destabilization especially with the absence of solid proof.

“That should stop. Ito nga ang shortcomings namin [These are our shortcomings], from the very start, parang naging overregulation ang pag-handle ng pandemic [it’s as if the handling of the pandemic became overregulation],” he told CNN Philippines. “National government keeps on issuing too many regulations to the point na stunted na ang efforts ng private sector and LGUs.”

[Translation: National government keeps on issuing too many regulations to the point that efforts of the private sector and LGUs have become stunted.]

In a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday, Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade said it was their job to remind people to be careful about "dubious organizations and individuals."

"Informing people to be careful about these organizations and individuals is our job. It's NOT us red-tagging them. When they show their clear links to the red then they identify themselves as red, then they become defensive," he said.

Parlade added there are groups that have opened community grocery programs but have not gotten into trouble because he said they were sincere in helping people.

"These groups who are complaining have posters #StopKillingFarmers and even #OUSTD30, they're agitating people to hate their gov't at this time of pandemic. They're distributing food, and with it is the poison. That's not right," Parlade said.

No need for barangay permit

Interior Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs Martin Diño clarified the setting up of a community pantry does not necessitate any barangay permit.

Kahit na wag na kayo kumuha ng permit sa barangay,” the official told CNN Philippines. “Kaya lang nga talagang pupunta ang barangay once nakita na nabe-break ang social distancing kasi mananagot din si Kapitan oras na napabayaan niya ang paghahalo-halo ng mga mamamayan at nagbabadyang ng panganib para sa COVID-19.”

[Translation: No need to secure a permit from the barangay. The barangay (officials) really just have to intervene when the social distancing rule is already being broken, because the (barangay) captain will be held liable for such crowds and there’s a threat of COVID-19 spreading under his watch.]

Diño added that should crowding begin, organizers must call the attention of the barangay and coordinate with them so that social distancing can be implemented, a view shared by Anti-Red Tape Authority Director General Jeremiah Belgica.

Hindi po ito negosyo, ito po ay boluntaryo...Hindi po dapat nire-require ng business permit or barangay permit, bagkus, dapat suportahan pa natin,” the ARTA chief told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: This (community pantry initiative) is not a business, it’s voluntary…business or barangay permits should not be required of it and we should support it instead.]

Diño's remarks are a reversal of his earlier statement in another television interview that those planning to establish community pantries need a permit from their respective LGUs or barangays to ensure protocols on physical distancing and other health measures are observed.

During a televised briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque noted Interior Secretary Eduardo Año himself issued policemen a similar order.

Yan po ay talaga naman pong pinupuri ng ating Presidente,” said the spokesman, referring to the rise of community pantries. “At ang ating DILG Secretary Año, sinusugan din po ito…inordera niya ang mga pulis, kapulisan na huwag maghimasok sa operasyon ng mga community pantries except kung kinakailangan lamang ipatupad ang mga minimum health standards.”

[Translation: The President really praises (the rise of community pantries). Our DILG Secretary Año supported this by ordering the police not to intervene in the operations of community pantries except when there’s a need to enforce minimum health standards.]

Set up by concerned citizens, community pantries allow people to donate and drop off food like canned goods and fresh produce along with other commodities and also take items based on their personal needs.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent Anjo Alimario, correspondent Gerg Cahiles and multi-platform news writers Glee Jalea and Vince Ferreras contributed to this report.