The COVID-19 pandemic has made the vulnerable groups more exposed to the virus mainly because of their limited capacity to practice social distancing and the need to go out and earn a living as staying at home is not a viable option. They are the ones who suffer the most economically, because of the lockdowns and closure of businesses.
In the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan, the idea of setting up community pantries is a response by civic-minded individuals to the growing need of vulnerable sectors to be able to survive amidst the pandemic, the constant lockdowns and inadequacies that have put their lives in limbo. It is voluntarily set up by citizens in different parts of the country to encourage people to give freely and donate according to their capacity, so that those who need sustenance can just take from the pantries. Although some people may see this community self-help as indicative of the lapses in the government’s response to the pandemic, the organizers and volunteers of the various community pantries that emerged around the country should be commended, supported and encouraged; and that the spirit of bayanihan must be replicated, as they address the most basic need of the vulnerable to survive, even if only means one day at a time.
The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) is therefore baffled and expresses its grave concern over the red-tagging, the violation of privacy rights, and even intimidation, at the very least, of people behind the community pantries and those working to help those who are most in need.
Reports and documented incidents have shown how law enforcers approached the community pantry organizers and volunteers seeking for their personal information, and for undisclosed or dubious reasons. The Data Privacy Act of 2012 states that personal information must be collected for a specified and legitimate purpose, which must be declared before, or as soon as reasonably practicable after collection. Information must
also be processed fairly and lawfully. The law enforcers themselves must be at the forefront of implementing this law; not the ones blatantly trampling on it. Doing otherwise is a blatant violation of the right to privacy of the persons concerned.
Just like the setting up of these community pantries is part of our freedom of expression, any statement that may come together with these pantries, political or otherwise, is likewise protected. In fact, the bayanihan spirit of these community pantries is a political statement itself of how in dire need our fellow Filipinos are. And we admonish any curtailment of such statement.
Considering the foregoing, AHRC reminds everyone that:
- Personal information is protected by privacy laws.
- Permits are not needed for these community pantries since they merely serve as drop off and pick up points of charity; people drop-off donations and others pick up what they need.
- If approached by law enforcers and asked for your personal information, know that you can:
- Ask for the identity of the police officer/s involved and take a picture of the identification card presented;
- Ask for the reasons for data collection and for what purpose it will be used;
- Decline to give your personal details if you are not comfortable;
- Document what happened and take photos, if possible.
- Report the incident to the Commission on Human Rights, media and local government units, (barangay and municipality/city).
In all instances, remain respectful but confident of your rights.