Community pantries have put food on the table for thousands of Filipinos struck by the financial tolls of COVID-19. The collective effort run on "give what you can, take what you need" mantra has its share of critics.
Ana Patricia Non, the brains behind the viral Maginhawa community pantry, had to close shop on Tuesday following reports of red-tagging and other safety concerns. Though addressed by Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, organizers in other areas are not spared from earning a visit from the police.
While some officers are only there to uphold health and safety protocols (or maybe donate some goods themselves), their presence can stir concern. If you feel like they're overstepping and you don't know what to do, lawyer Chel Diokno came up with a Twitter thread filled with legal advice.
Here's what to do if police visit your community pantry:
Take note of their names
If they're in uniform, they'll have their last names stitched on it. If they're in civilian attire, ask for a government ID and write down their name plus affiliation.
"Kung hindi sila pumayag, politely say that you can't accomodate them, dahil di mo alam kung law enforcers ba talaga sila," Diokno said.
You're not obligated to sign anything
Officers may ask you to fill out forms asking you to disclose personal information.
"Tandaan, wala kang kahit anong obligasyon na mag-fill up ng form o magbigay ng personal information sa law enforcers," he said.
You may be asked to sign an acknolwedgment that they visited your outpost. Prior to signing, read the document carefully, take a photo, and send it to a lawyer.
"Posibleng may waiver of rights ito, and this can prejudice your right to file a case kung kailangan," he warned.
If police are insistent, Diokno advised using your non-dominant hand to sign or use a different signature entirely, so you can later explain that you were forced to sign.
If it's on private property, they can't enter without a warrant
They can only enter private property on two grounds: if they have a search warrant signed by a judge, or if the owner gives them permission.
If they don't have a warrant, you can tell them "Pasensya na po, pero di kayo pwedeng pumasok kung wala kayong search warrant."
If they insist, you can assert your right and say "Karapatan ko po yan, at yan po ang advice sa akin ng abogado."
Even on public land, officers need a warrant to search the pantry itself
While they can't search the pantry itself, Diokno reminded organizers that "If the community pantry is on public land, make sure you are not obstructing traffic, littering, or otherwise violating any similar local regulations."
What if they ask for a business permit?
Mayors have expressed support for community pantries, but if officers still look for a permit, you can explain your side.
"Sabihin na based on your understanding, hindi kailangan ng permit dahil hindi naman kayo nagnenegosyo; your only purpose is to help the needy and marginalized," he said.
What if they ask for a barangay permit?
The Department of Local and Interior Government and Anti-Red Tape Authority have stated in separate announcements that community pantries don't need barangay permits.
You can keep the pantry open as long as you're not violating guidelines from the Inter-Agency Task Force
Diokno called community pantries a humanitarian effort, and should be allowed.
If they demolish the pantry, you can take pictures and videos
Any attempt at demolishing or dismantling a community pantry can be objected. However, do not physically resist, Diokno said. Instead, you can take video and photographic evidence of what they're doing, which is allowed.
Set up CCTV cameras if you're able
If you can, set up security cameras overseeing the pantry 24/7.
Know your rights
It can be confusing or intimidating once you're in the situation, but Diokno reiterated the importance of knowing your rights, especially during these times. He linked a primer from non-profit organizations so you always know your rights.
Should you need assistance, Diokno is part of a free legal helpdesk.