THE POLICE drew widespread flak after the organizer of the first community pantry, a food aid initiative that has been replicated across the country, reported being questioned by cops. The National Privacy Commission (NPC), in a statement on Tuesday, warned the police against such profiling activities that may violate privacy laws. “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,” NPC Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro said. The NPC said that some individuals have allegedly been asked by the police to provide personal data like email addresses and social media accounts. Mr. Liboro said that the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) data protection arm should look into reports of profiling. Anna Patricia Non, who started the Maginhawa Community Pantry in Quezon City, said in a post on her Facebook page that she feared for her safety after being tagged by government representatives as a member of the communist movement. She temporarily halted the pantry operations on Tuesday, citing safety concerns for the volunteers assisting in the project. “Lalo na po at nagkaproblema kanina ang ibang Community Pantry sa mga kapulisan (Especially since other community pantries were also having problems with the police),” she said. In an online press conference later on Tuesday, she categorically said that she has no communist links but decried that her political views should be an issue. Speaking mostly in Filipino, she said it is irrelevant who she is or what she stands for, and what is important is her clear intention to simply help people in need amid a coronavirus pandemic.
Police chief Debold M. Sinas, in a statement, said there was no order “to conduct any form of profiling of organizers of community pantries.” “It is beyond the interest of the PNP to delve into purely voluntary personal activities of private citizens… we have no intention to interfere but to serve the best interest of law and order and public safety in such public activities.” Senators slammed the police and expressed support for Ms. Non and the growing grassroots effort. “When common people band together to help those who are in need; when volunteers offer a selfless act of serving the people; and when ordinary Filipinos put up community pantries as a pure form of generosity — I don’t see them as enemies of the state, but as champions who have genuine compassion for our people,” Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay said. Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, in an interview over CNN Philippines, said, “I think it is ill-advised even, you know, deplorable that police officers suspect these people of engaging in destabilization.” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said community pantries “need more food bags, not red tags, nor red tape” after an interior department official said organizers should get a permit. “Community pantries require no state franchise, nor government permit, nor police clearance. The business of helping your neighbor, as God commanded, requires no business permit from man,” Mr. Recto said in a statement. Senators Binay, Recto, Leila M. de Lima, Franklin M. Drilon, Sherwin T. Gatchalian, Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, Grace Poe-Llamanzares also jointly condemned the social media post of the national task force to end communist movement. “The profiling of organizers must stop. It puts people’s lives in danger, knowing how notorious some police, military officers, and personnel are in red-tagging progressives and now civic-minded citizens who only want to do good for their fellow men and women,” they said in a statement. — Jenina P. Ibanez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas