Lawyers’ groups: Community pantries not prohibited

Photo courtesy of Altermidya Network)

“Not being required, and in fact prohibited by law, the organizers should not be forced, and are within their right, to refuse to sign any disclosure forms. Lest some of the red-faced government officials forget, the 1987 Constitution recognizes the right of all citizens to participate in governmental and societal concerns, and mandates that these rights shall not be abridged.”

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Leave them alone for you already did.”

This is the statement of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) after the red-tagging of the community pantries and its organizers which prompted the Maginhawa Community Pantry to temporarily halt its operation today, April 20.

In a social media post, Ana Patricia Non, organizer of Maginhawa Community Pantry, expressed fears of walking alone in Maginhawa Street in Quezon City after at least three policemen asked for her contact number. Other community pantries set up in different areas in Metro Manila also reported profiling in social media, prompting criticism from netizens.

The lawyers’ group said, “Those setting up community pantries are well within their legal rights to undertake such activities, and there is no law or any administrative regulation or issuance that prohibits them from doing so.”

The NUPL pointed out that the said activities were initiated by concerned private individuals and groups in order to help those who were adversely affected by the pandemic without expecting gain or self-serving reward.

“Thus, not being prohibited by law, and are not considered a regulated activity, it can be undertaken without governmental permits and licenses which are usually required for and applicable to commercial undertakings,” the NUPL said.

Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Martin Diño said in statement that community pantries should acquire permits from the local government to ensure health protocols. He later recanted.

“Unnecessary, even unwelcome, governmental regulation, intervention or interference of any form, kind and nature, unless sanctioned by a specific and applicable law, ordinance, or regulation, is an unreasonable intrusion to this right, and must be deemed illegal and unconstitutional,” the NUPL added.

On profiling of organizers, volunteers

Non also publicly sought the help of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte  after three policemen asked her contact number and other information about her, particularly on her affiliations. The same also happened to volunteers of other community pantries where members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) would show up in their area asking for information or requiring them to fill out forms and to get their Facebook accounts.

In response, Belmonte said she has requested meetings with authorities to address Non’s security concerns.

“In these difficult times, let us allow kindness and selflessness to prevail,” Belmonte said.

Meanwhile, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) emphasized that “collecting personal data must be done fairly and lawfully with respect to the rights of a data subject, including rights to be informed and object.”

Privacy Commissioner Raymund Enriquez Liboro called the attention of the PNP Data Protection Office to look into the reported incidents of profiling and take appropriate measures. This is to “prevent any doings of its personnel on the ground that could potentially harm citizens and violate rights.”

The NUPL also said that this is another form of “unreasonable intrusion.” They added that this violates their constitutional rights to privacy, and a violation of Republic Act 10173 or Data Privacy Act of 2012.

“Not being required, and in fact prohibited by law, the organizers should not be forced, and are within their right, to refuse to sign any disclosure forms. Lest some of the red-faced government officials forget, the 1987 Constitution recognizes the right of all citizens to participate in governmental and societal concerns, and mandates that these rights shall not be abridged,” the group said.

The red-tagging and profiling of the community pantries have gained massive criticisms. Senators, including Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros and Ralph Recto, released a joint statement calling on the government to stop red-tagging the organizers of the community pantries.

In news reports, PNP Chief Debold Sinas denied issuing an order to profile the organizers of the community pantries. But Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson admitted in an interview with Super Radyo dzBB that they are indeed checking the background of the organizers of the community pantries.

Parlade alleged that these community pantries may have been influenced by the communist groups and called criticisms against government’s inadequate aid for the poor as propaganda.

Human rights group Karapatan criticized the red-tagging and harassment of community pantries lambasting the “shamelessness of this inept regime” saying that it “knows no bounds.”

“They are already the cause of hardship, and now they are the one’s who shamelessly threaten,” Karapatan said in a statement.

“It is very much clear to anyone that they simply do not care if people suffer and die of hunger, as long as they are able to peddle their anti-people and malicious agenda that has only caused and exacerbated the suffering of the Filipino people especially amid this pandemic,” it continued.

The group said that initiatives like the community pantry only shows the power of organized and empowered communities.

They asserted that the reaction of the government on these initiatives reveal that President Duterte’s regime is “threatened by communities coming together and taking concrete and collective action to assert their welfare. Organizing community pantries and other mutual aid initiatives is not a crime.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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