Close up on community pantries: Media’s continuing coverage

A BRIGHT spot in the darkness of the pandemic, community pantries brought to life the sense of solidarity among Filipinos from every walk of life. The idea that people working together can help address the problem of hunger has proved a viable model for others to do likewise, as counters of vegetables and other food supplies opened on streets and alleys across the country, even reaching overseas in far off Timor Leste.

CMFR cheers the mainstream media for closely following the humanitarian movement, highlighting in their coverage how the community pantry projects the country’s culture of bayanihan as well as analyzing its potential to counter the widespread hunger of people during the pandemic.

Reports noted the movement’s start in Maginhawa St. in Quezon City where Ana Patricia Non, opened the first pantry on April 14. The photo of the iconic bamboo cart filled with canned goods and vegetables made the rounds of social media, with Non’s viral post getting more than 30,000 likes and 15,000 shares. Since then and during  the period of CMFR’s monitor, the media have kept track of its spread, as stalls or booths sprouted in different parts of the county to receive contributions from anyone who has anything to give to benefit those in need.

Many of these stations used the same sign which Non printed on cardboard in the original site —  “Kumuha ayon sa pangangailangan, magbigay ayon sa kakayahan.” (Give what you can, take what you need.)

Unfortunately, even a good thing will have its critics. Media promptly picked up the controversial reaction of Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), who labeled community pantries as venues for communist recruitment. Some reports noted that Parlade lacked proof to back his allegations. Non shut down the pantry on April 20, saying that the local police began dropping by Maginhawa asking for her contact number, not once but repeatedly. Reports also followed the developments from this point, as other government officials picked up Parlade’s “red-tag” lead, all the while keeping up with the swelling expression of support by other public officials in LGUs and government. No less than National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. barred both Parlade and Communications Secretary Lorraine Badoy, another spokesperson of the anti-insurgency task force, from making further comments on the pantries. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, himself a retired military official, said he wanted Parlade removed from his position.

In a two-week period beginning from April 14 to April 28, CMFR monitored three broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin) and four primetime news programs (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas and a Philippines’ News Night).

The publications and programs above included the community pantry phenomenon in the news, with most reports given prominence on the front pages in print and the lead in broadcast programs. CMFR counted a total of 72 broadcast reports and 43 print reports on the subject of the pantries.

In broadcast, TV Patrol had the most reports with 24, followed by 24 Oras with 22 reports and Frontline Pilipinas with 20 reports. News Night came in last with only seven reports. CMFR notes that TV Patrol and 24 Oras broadcast through seven days, News Night and Frontline Pilipinas air only on weekdays. 

The Star led print publications with 16 reports, followed closely by the Manila Bulletin with 14 reports and the Inquirer with 13 reports.

Media reports included the following issues and themes:

  • The community response to the problem of hunger, tracking the spread of the model in and out of the country;
  • How the pantries work, and who are involved;
  • Involvement of LGUs establishing guidelines to enforce measures for health and safety measures;
  • Red-tagging and related developments, including criticism of allegations made by NTF-ELCAC, calls to defund NTF-ELCAC, gag order on officials red-tagging 

With 36 reports, tracking the spread of the “pantry” in the country and abroad and its connection to the problem of hunger topped the list of themes. This was followed closely by red-tagging with 34 reports. In reporting the red-tagging, most media cited sources arguing that these were baseless and politically-charged accusations. There were 16 reports each for Controversies and Guidelines.

Unfortunately, there were only 13 reports that provided critical analysis of the relevance of the movement to growing hunger and the absence of sufficient efforts to address the food shortage. And there was notable silence on the failed objectives of government on two crucial fronts: health and the economy, which might have given rise to the phenomenon of the community pantry. These points were more fully discussed by bloggers and in other social media content.