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Community kitchens feed the hungry during lockdown
Despite attacks, Filipino women strive to help the poor
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Since the pandemic and start of lockdowns last year, around 15 million or 62 percent of families went hungry in the Philippines. Research group Ibon said these Filipinos go hungry because they do not have enough money to buy food, especially from lack of work.
Much like how Filipinos bear with disasters, during the pandemic the poor are most vulnerable and largely left to fend for themselves. The past year up to now shows they have to demand government action to curb the virus and help the people. But while waiting for the government’s stingy and slow aid, they have to activate their survival mode by pooling their resources to help each other. All these, the people have to do amid militaristic community quarantines. And as they say when it rains it pours, calamities from typhoons, earthquakes, farm infestation, among others, did not stop afflicting communities.
Peoples’ organizations, communities, and concerned citizens have banded together to form community kitchens, community pantries, community gardens during the pandemic. These initiatives naturally earned public support that despite police harassment, arrests and red-tagging of kitchen and pantry volunteers, the mutual aid initiatives grew to cover even more areas.
Last year the government finally distributed aid in the locked down Greater Manila area only after calls and criticisms mounted. But obviously, the aid was too small to truly help as Filipinos continue to take to social media, community kitchens, pantries and similar efforts to help the hungry and the unemployed.
Benefits of mutual aid
Since 2020, among other efforts to overcome the restrictions of lockdown, various groups have promoted the Bagsakan program to directly help the peasants and urban communities. Bagsakan allowed farmers to connect with consumers and sell their goods at competitive prices, cutting down overpricing of traders.
After the Taal volcano eruption, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and after typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses, peoples’ initiatives abound also to pool and bring resources to places not reached by government aid and relief. There were the Tulong Anakpawis and Bayang Matulungin which promoted the interaction of farmers and urban poor communities on how they can directly cooperate to put together needed relief packs and food. There was the Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA), a nationwide multi-sectoral organized initiative that was first mobilized for providing relief to calamity-stricken communities 15 years ago. There are the Lingap Gabriela, the Lingap Kadamay, humanitarian arms of women’s and urban poor groups.
Here we followed some examples of peoples’ initiatives, the community kitchens and gardens launched since the start of lockdowns in Metro Manila. By now these kitchens have served hundreds of thousands of warm, nutritious meals to the hungry. But even its volunteers admit these alone are not enough. A glimpse of the workings of these community kitchens offers inspiration and at the same time, strong arguments for stimulus packages, substantial aid and affirmative government actions.
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At the onset of the pandemic, the residents of Sitio San Roque in Quezon City for example have already fended for themselves by establishing community-led efforts such as Kusinang Bayan (community kitchens), community pantries, Tanimang Bayan (urban gardening), COVID-19 health response, and Eskuwela Maralita. For sustainability, they have held a dialogue with the city mayor’s office, which expressed willingness to partner with the community to develop these programs. But these have yet to bear concrete fruits.
Farmers and fisherfolk are campaigning for programs that would boost local food production and aid farmers and fishers. They condemned how the government has been overseeing huge losses in agriculture due to embracing neoliberal policies.
“Luging-lugi na ang mga magsasaka, ang inaatupag pa ng DA ay paano tambakan ng imported ang bansa,” (The country is already losing a lot but the DA is kept busy thinking how it could allow more dumping of imported goods in the country), said KMP Chairman Emeritus Rafael Mariano.
Ayuda needed more than limos
Groups strive to operate community kitchens and pantries as needed and as donations allow, but along with it, workers and urban poor groups conduct “kalampagan” campaigns, banging empty pots and pans at the gates of Congress since it resumed last May 17.
Last May 15, various groups formed in an online gathering called an “Ayuda network.” They are pressing on Congress and President Rodrigo Duterte to finally approve a new round of social amelioration for families affected by the pandemic.
Rep. Ferdinand Gaite from Bayan Muna said Congress has consolidated various “ayuda bills.”
Read: Why the ‘ayuda for all’ bill must advance
Various sectors launched last May 15 what they call an “Ayuda Network” to press Congress and President Rodrigo Duterte to finally approve the demand for a new round of social amelioration for families affected by the pandemic. Rep. Ferdinand Gaite from Bayan Muna said various “ayuda bills” have been consolidated and cleared by the lower house’s Economic Affairs Committee.
The new network’s main demands include a P10,000 subsidy for Filipino families, a wage subsidy for workers and small businesses, a P15,000 agriculture subsidy for the agriculture subsidy, support for health workers, the education sector and migrants.
“The ‘ayuda bills” are way more important than the moves to amend the economic provisions of the Charter,” Rep. Gaite,
Providing cash assistance will boost household spending and positively impact on the economy, said Noel Leyco, a former OIC of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and now President of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. He differentiated the “ayuda” from “limos” or charity, saying it is the government’s mandate to provide aid during calamities and emergencies.
Read: Duterte’s #SONA silent on dealing with deadlier COVID-19 variant, workers’ woes
The Ayuda Network is composed of workers, farmers, unemployed, teachers, students, small business owners, migrants, lawmakers, economists, community pantry organizers, and other concerned groups pushing for increased government support for the poor during the pandemic.
This story was funded by the APWLD 2020 media fellowship programme on ‘Gendered Impact of COVID-19 on the Ground’