The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and surfaced long-standing inadequacies in the country’s health and social systems. In response to the Philippine government’s inefficient and ineffective COVID-19 response and their dismissal of the calls for accountability, Filipinos at the barangay level organized community pantries to respond to the needs of the community. Using WHO’s Framework for Community Health Engagement, this study positions community pantries as a unique health phenomenon during the COVID-19 pandemic within the Philippine context. This study explores the ways that the Maginhawa Community Pantry—the critical case study—addresses both emergent and pre-existing health needs among Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic. By examining community pantries from the perspective of the Maginhawa Community Pantry organizer, this paper elucidates how community pantries engage in diverse initiatives that: (1) mobilize the community for health, (2) improve access to healthcare, (3) ensure community collaboration and (4) call for collective action for systemic issues. The findings of this paper highlight the capacity and potential of community pantries as a health response beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and address gaps in the Philippine healthcare system.
In the Philippines, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and surfaced long-standing inadequacies in the country’s healthcare system. Unable to mitigate the increasing COVID-19 cases through limited testing and contact tracing, several community quarantines, or lockdowns, were enacted by the Philippine government early in the pandemic to limit social interaction and physical mobility (Amit et al., 2021). This included curfews, the suspension of in-person classes and work, the closing of public transportation systems, and international and regional travel restrictions (2021). Among stringent lockdown guidelines, the country’s issues on access to HIV services (Gangcuangco, 2019; Quilantang et al., 2020), undernutrition and food insecurity (Food and Agriculture Organization et al., 2020), and multidimensional poverty (Park et al., 2020; UN Development Programme, 2021) were aggravated as well.
The ever-changing community quarantine restrictions also became a source of uncertainty and misunderstanding that made communities more vulnerable to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic as lockdowns hindered operations of economic activities (Chiu, 2021; Hallare, 2021). In response, the Philippine government passed Republic Act 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020, which institutes guidelines and programmes that address the multidimensional issues elucidated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these initiatives is the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP), which provides Filipino households with direct financial assistance, or ayuda, of around Php 5000 to Php 8000 ($100 to $400) to support their daily and emergent needs for two months (International Monetary Fund, 2021).
Widespread unemployment, employee retrenchment and income instability because of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced several Filipinos to rely on government financial assistance (Gozum et al., 2021). However, when the government could not equitably provide the ayuda to Filipino families amidst an intensified lockdown last April 2021 (Adel, 2020; Madarang, 2021), barriers to accessing basic goods and services were heightened (Gozum et al., 2021). In Metro Manila, for example, while most households received food assistance and financial assistance from the government, it was found that only a minority of the poorest households have received ayuda (UNDP and UNICEF, 2020).
This, alongside the continued threat of COVID-19, raised concerns about the government’s COVID-19 response. However, calls for accountability were dismissed and framed by the government as non-contributive to solving the public health crisis (Reyes, 2021). The populist discourse of the Duterte administration (Arguelles, 2021) is unsurprising as it has always framed public health issues as such. The discursive framing of public health issues, such as the Philippine war on drugs and COVID-19, as existential threats and a matter of national security justifies the Duterte administration’s use of brute force and aggression through state forces as necessary health interventions (Lasco and Curato, 2019; Simbulan et al., 2019; Hapal, 2021; Lasco and Yu, 2021b). Part and parcel of this approach entail the imposition of obedience through individual behaviours as the key to solving the public health crises. In the context of COVID-19, this has resulted in the punishment of quarantine violators through arrest, detainment, and in some cases, death (Gotinga, 2020; Lovett, 2020; Talabong, 2020).
In response to the Philippine government’s inefficient and ineffective COVID-19 response and their dismissal of the calls for accountability (see Arguelles, 2021), Filipinos at the barangay level organized community pantries to respond to the needs of the community (del Castillo and Maravilla, 2021). The Maginhawa Community Pantry–the first community pantry established–became an avenue for community members to avail of much-needed basic goods and commodities, such as ‘vegetables…, [rubbing] alcohol, face masks, canned goods, and rice’ (Gozum, 2021). The principle of the Maginhawa Community Pantry is: magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan, or ‘give what you can, take what you need’ (Franco, 2021). Well received by the public, the Maginhawa Community Pantry spurred a movement resulting in the establishment of over 6000 community pantries all over the country (Bajo, 2021).
The concept of community pantries is not entirely new, with its health implications having been previously explored in the literature primarily through the phenomenon of food pantries in the USA. Food pantries are opportunities to address inequitable access to food (Ginsburg et al., 2018). Furthermore, pantries can address health problems related to population health especially given their presence in diverse localities such as ‘churches, community centres, social service agencies, and schools’ (Schwartz and Seligman, 2019, p. 1). However, because food items are the primary goods offered at these pantries, their health implications have been limited to malnutrition and associated health problems (Wetherill et al., 2018).
The possible applications of pantries to other health problems were inferred in the More Than Food Model (Martin et al., 2018). Aside from providing healthier food options, they also advocate for access to resources and opportunities that could empower community members to overcome these socio-economic issues, such as unemployment, which perpetuate hunger and food insecurity. This is echoed by Schwartz and Seligman (2019), who note that food insecurity, which food pantries intend to address, is a result of the lack of social and economic policies and programmes that could support and protect the daily and emergent needs of the community. This signals that pantries may have the potential to address health issues related to or beyond nutrition and food insecurity. For instance, journalistic reports have reported that Philippine community pantries also provide other health commodities, information, and services such as HIV tests, condoms and hotline services for gender-based violence (Viernes, 2021). Some have also provided pet food and children’s toys for communities (Villanueva, 2021).
Despite the capacity of pantries to address diverse health problems, the local literature has largely focused on sociological and political analyses of the pantries as applications and manifestations of everyday socialism (Evangelista, 2021), resistance and mutual aid (Valenzuela, 2021), and diskarte (Filipino agency) (Merez, 2021). While these analyses elucidate the complex nature of community pantries, an exploration of how these pantries respond to health problems beyond food insecurity during the pandemic has not yet been explored in the literature. Furthermore, while interviews with community organizers have been published in popular media, the local literature has not yet deeply explored the perspectives and experiences of the pantry organizers, which may provide insight not only into the organizational aspect of community pantries but the socio-political and economic push and pull factors, which influenced the rise of community pantries.
This paper intends to contribute to these gaps by positioning the community pantries as a unique health phenomenon initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic within the Philippine context. Because of the demonstrated capacity of Filipinos to mobilize and organize to address both emergent and pre-existing health needs among Filipinos through the pantries, this paper intends to elucidate community pantries as an avenue for community engagement for health. As such, this paper highlights grounded insights on how Philippine communities make sense of and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other health problems exacerbated or surfaced by the pandemic. Further, this paper extends the discourse on the role and impact of community pantries as a health response beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
This study follows the World Health Organization (WHO)’s (2020) Four Approaches to Community Engagement for Universal Health Care, which defines community engagement as a process of interacting and empowering the community to collectively address health problems relevant to the community (2020). As Table 1 shows, the framework presents four major types of community engagement for health, with each addressing a specific type of health problem. Given the historical roots of community organization and grassroots movements toward confronting relevant social issues faced by Philippine communities (Duthy and Bolo-Duthy, 2003), a framework for community health engagement may provide opportunities to make sense of community pantries as a health phenomenon with the capacity of addressing health problems at the community level.
|Community-oriented||→||Behavioural, cultural and social conditions|
|Initiatives that improve awareness or information about emergent health needs amongst community members to mobilize them to engage in initiatives that address these health needs.||Socio-cultural, political, economic and environmental facilitators and barriers to COVID-19-related and other health behaviours|
|Community based||→||Health system determinants|
|Initiatives where active consultation and involvement of community members are welcomed and encouraged to address emergent health needs.||Institutional programmes, services and goods provided or distributed by the Philippine healthcare system, which are salient factors that influence the health outcomes and wellbeing of Filipinos.|
|Community managed||→||Prerequisites for Health|
|Initiatives that seek out and welcome collaboration among leaders from different sectors in Philippine society to address emergent health needs.||Structural issues, conditions, and forces, which may directly or indirectly inform the health and wellbeing of Filipinos.|
|Community owned||→||Upstream driving forces|
|Initiatives that empower members of the community to actively participate in initiatives, which intend to address emergent health needs within their community.||Macro-level socio-structural forces and contexts, which provide the backdrop as well as cultivate emergent health needs among Filipinos.|
This is an exploratory qualitative study following a single-case design (Yin, 2003). This study explored the community pantries movements during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines through the perspectives and experiences of community pantry organizers. Since community pantries emerged in the Philippines because of the government’s inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a case study design was appropriate as it focuses the inquiry on ‘a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context’ (Yin, 2003, p. 13).
The Maginhawa Community Pantry, particularly its community pantry organizer, will be considered the ‘critical case’ for this study (Yin, 2003, p. 40) because of their position as the symbolic and organizational leader of the community pantries movement in the Philippines. Established in Barangay Maginhawa, Quezon City, the Maginhawa Community Pantry has gained significant traction not only as the first community pantry in the country, but also because of the overtly hostile response of the Philippine government towards its community pantry organizer. Furthermore, the Maginhawa Community Pantry has grown into a community pantry hub, organizing the distribution of goods across a network of neighbouring community pantries in Quezon City and maintaining a national database of community pantries through Community Pantry PH, a group of ‘[o]rganizers, donors and advocates of community pantries in the Philippines’ (Community Pantry PH, 2021). While this study was conducted entirely online, the exploration included the real-life local contexts and circumstances that influence and relate to the founding organizer’s experiences.
This study used primary data gathered through a semi-structured interview conducted through the online conferencing platform Zoom with the founding organizer of Maginhawa Community Pantry. The interview explored the organizer’s experience in establishing and managing the community pantry, the different social actors involved (i.e. donors, beneficiaries, volunteers, state actors), and their perceived role of the pantries in addressing health problems in the Philippines. To complement this, this study also presents narratives from the founding organizer and other social actors involved in the Maginhawa Community Pantry (i.e. donors, beneficiaries, volunteers) extracted from journalistic articles and reportage on community pantries in the Philippines.
The De La Salle University Manila Department of Sociology and Behavioural Sciences provided ethical review and approval. The founding organizer of Maginhawa Community Pantry was contacted through social media to appraise their interest, willingness and availability for participation. The study information sheet and the informed consent forms (ICF) were sent via email. The organizer was given ample time to ask questions about their participation in the study. The interview was only scheduled when documented consent to participate was obtained. Before the interview proper, the ICF and its contents were reviewed, and the organizer’s voluntary informed consent was also affirmed. Although the participant was given the option of using an alias, the founding organizer of Maginhawa Community Pantry was comfortable with their responses being attributed to them throughout the study. The authors provided compensation amounting to Php 500 ($10.00) to cover the cost of 1-day access to the Internet. This study adheres to the guidelines of the Philippines’ Data Privacy Act of 2012. The organizer was also informed of the possibility that research articles may be produced from the findings of this study and that access to these will be given once available.
Interview data were analysed by ‘relying on theoretical propositions’ (Yin, 2003, p. 111) and compared with WHO’s Four Approaches to Community Engagement for UHC (2020). In particular, the experiences and contexts of the Maginhawa Community Pantry and its organizer were analysed by looking at their initiatives and approaches vis-à-vis the establishment, management, and operation of the community pantry and how these align or differ from the approaches outlined by the WHO. The authors analysed the interview transcript individually and iteratively, looking for similarities and differences between the approaches of the Pantry and the WHO’s framework. Then, the research team converged to discuss and synthesize their findings. Similar reflections from the individual analyses were noted. Likewise, the researchers further examined contrasting insights until a consensus was reached on how the Maginhawa Community Pantry manifested the four approaches to community engagement.
The interview with the founding organizer of the Maginhawa Community Pantry showed that community pantries engage in all four approaches to community engagement for health in establishing, managing and sustaining the community pantries. Although the initiatives of the community pantries show overlap between the four approaches, this case study elucidates four distinct outcomes: (1) mobilizing the community for health, (2) improving access to healthcare, (3) ensuring community collaboration and (4) calling for collective action for systemic issues. The following sections discuss the initiatives at the Pantry, which manifest the four approaches, the health problems within the COVID-19 pandemic that these initiatives address, and the outcomes of these initiatives.
More than addressing the emergent lack of financial assistance from the government and access to essential grocery items, the Pantry was conceived with the intention of community members willingly contributing to the pantry to help other community members. The community pantry quickly evolved into a community project. As more people heard of and needed the Pantry, managing it became a full-time endeavour that required and motivated the engagement of community members, such as those who previously benefited from the Pantry.
The Western concept of the community pantries—the ones that are stand-alone—won’t work because there are a lot who are starving in the Philippines…now, I still need help from communities, and the volunteers at the pantries were those who previously lined up at the pantries.
The Pantry began distributing face masks and disinfectant products as more of these types of donations came. Likewise, as vaccines became more available in the Philippines, the need to vaccinate the community became evident. In response to the inaccessibility of understandable COVID-19-related health information and unclear vaccination protocols, the founding organizer partnered with medical doctors to provide language-accessible vaccine information and assisted community members in registering for vaccinations at local government units.
It got to a point that we brought cell phones and a laptop so that we could be the ones to register the people and our lines [of communication] were open: “Hey, there’s [vaccination] happening at City Hall later. Get vaccinated!”
The Pantry’s community-oriented response to the emergent health needs of the community mobilizes community members toward opportunities to collectively address community health problems and empower the community to adopt appropriate health-seeking behaviours, such as vaccination and mask wearing. In doing so, the Pantry addresses salient behavioural, cultural and social conditions related to COVID-19 (e.g. disparities in accessing COVID-19 and other health information; economic opportunities and financial support, etc.). Although the COVID-19 pandemic may be the major health problem and the larger social and health context of the community pantries, the Pantry not only shows that pre-pandemic health-related issues remain constant barriers to the health and wellbeing of Filipinos but that community-oriented initiatives may contribute substantially to addressing these disparities as well.
The interview with the Pantry organizer elucidates how community pantries can fill in the gaps in health service delivery, especially those surfaced by COVID-19 restrictions. For instance, the Pantry collaborated with health professionals to produce pamphlets containing holistic health information designed for the unique needs of particular groups in the community, such as children and the elderly. Moreover, the founding organizer believes that accessible health information is important not only because of the rampant fake news around COVID-19 but also to encourage the community to engage in essential health behaviours, such as the uptake of healthier diets. As such, the Pantry provides access to healthier food options with complimentary recipes that integrate the commodities they distribute.
We also try [to ensure] that what we distribute is healthy. Of course, [we give] vegetables because of fibre, right? Then our recipes are adjusted for nursing mothers and kids in the communities so that whatever food we have is used in the recipe.
By providing access to diverse food items and other commodities, Maginhawa Community Pantry addresses the inequitable access and distribution of basic goods and services in the country that were heightened during the pandemic. In less than a week of its operations, the Pantry served around 3000 individuals (Valenzuela, 2021) and approximately 2000 families a day (Brothwell, n.d.). In a documentary by Rappler (2021), a beneficiary of the Pantry whose husband had lost their job during the pandemic was grateful for the Pantry and its donors, saying that,
“I would like to thank everyone who donated, especially those who come from distant places who bring goods here at the pantry. They are a big help” (Rappler, 2021).
Furthermore, the Pantry shows the capacity of community-based initiatives to positively affect sectors inside and outside of the Pantry’s home neighbourhood. For instance, community members who line up at Maginhawa Community Pantry commute back home via the local tricycle drivers who had lost their jobs during the lockdown and were among the first beneficiaries of the Pantry (GMA Public Affairs, 2021). Likewise, by sourcing food products from Filipino farmers, the Pantry also supports the local agricultural economy.
Another good topic that was surfaced by the community pantry is that it’s actually really easy to order vegetables from the farmers but then we don’t do it. It’s actually more affordable than canned goods—than those unhealthy stuff.
Mobilizing and partnering with other sectors, especially those whose socioeconomic activities were substantially affected by the pandemic, was echoed by other people involved in the Pantry. For instance, one donor shared that
“We thought, instead of buying goods from others, it would be better if we just buy goods from vendors who are poor and also affected (by the pandemic)…Not only have we helped the vendors, we were also able to help others who would receive these” (Rappler, 2021).
Given the catastrophic nature of health financing in the Philippines (Lasco et al., 2022), engaging with Filipino farmers and the local tricycle drivers through the Pantry is an investment in their health and wellbeing as well. This shows that these initiatives have ripple effects on other communities, especially when members of those communities (i.e. farmers; tricycle drivers) are also mobilized toward solving emergent health problems. In doing so, increased access to the healthcare system is afforded not only to the Pantry’s own community but also to communities the Pantry connects and partners with.
Volunteers at the Pantry—either former donors or beneficiaries—are encouraged to provide comments and feedback about the pantry’s operation. For the founding organizer, this complements the holistic view of the health and wellbeing of Filipinos, which includes ‘vaccines, mental health, physical health [or] whatever is good for the community’. This likewise entails openness to critical comments about how the Pantry is organized and managed. For instance, one beneficiary of the Pantry expressed their concerns about the lack of proper social distancing at the Pantry.
“What do the rules under [quarantine guidelines] in Quezon City say [about social distancing]? It’s two meters. Not one, but two meters!….This is a super spreader event. It is! 500 to 1,000 people here every day!” (Rappler, 2021).
These concerns were shared and raised by others, including President Duterte himself (Romero, 2021). In response, the Maginhawa Community Pantry implemented stricter social distancing protocols for beneficiaries lining up at the Pantry in the following days.
The Pantry has also birthed a network of over 6700 pantries nationwide (Balancio, 2021), evolving into a pantry hub that distributes goods and commodities to pantries in neighbouring barangays, especially those with specific health such as reproductive health, zero-waste, and community pharmacy, among others. Advocacy-focused community pantries have helped increase awareness of issues and access to commodities relevant to the vulnerable and marginalized, like ‘senior citizens, pregnant and persons with disabilities’ (Mercado, 2021).
Despite this, the Pantry has faced barriers to collaborating with the Philippine government. As journalistic reports have extensively covered, the Pantry organizers were profiled by the government as members of insurgency forces in the country. This brought about challenges related to the day-to-day operations and caused distress among pantry organizers.
I was frightened for my own safety, especially since the general [public] had already said things about me…I sought professional help. I go to therapy because before, I could go on runs around Maginhawa but there was a time that I couldn’t leave the house because my safety was at risk.
However, barriers to collaboration with the government do not dismiss the potential for community pantries to address diverse emergent health problems at the community level. For instance, the network of community pantries facilitates awareness and access to health services not initially conceived as advocacies of food pantries (i.e. sexual and reproductive health; mental health; etc.). Further, community pantries provide community-led solutions to prerequisites for health, such as unemployment and food insecurity.
The Pantry in and of itself is a community-owned approach as it not only utilizes the entire community’s efforts and resources to address relevant and emergent health issues in Maginhawa and neighbouring barangays but also empowers community members to be part of the pantry. As the founding organizer shares, the Pantry was inspired by the principle of US-based community pantries of ‘give what you can, take what you need’. In choosing this principle, the Pantry fosters an environment that allows community members to exercise their agency by giving back and contributing to the community pantry. As a result, the Pantry facilitates a sense of shared ownership among community members regardless of their background and capacity to give back, which sways against the ‘mainstream and elitist notion’ that people of wealth are the ones capable of providing for those in need in the context of donations (Valenzuela, 2021). As one of the Pantry donors shared,
“We pitched in Php 100.00 (~$2.00) each. It feels good of course because we get to contribute and help the community” (GMA Public Affairs, 2021).
Although community pantries show potential for engaging the community for health promotion, the Pantry organizer also highlights the limitations in addressing systemic problems in Philippine society. For them, a truly empowered community entails action, including but not limited to the community.
I can’t fix it alone and the community pantries can’t fix it alone. [The pantries] are like the first step to have the conversation and at the end of the day, to continue—to sustain this, [we need] enough support from the communities, we need help with education, [we need] to know our rights. That’s what I think. That’s the kind of community I dream of: empowered.
Their response highlights that the health problems that the Pantry addresses are beyond the scope of the community pantry. Much of the health problems and challenges faced by Filipino communities are manifestations and products of systemic and structural forces in Philippine society that produce health inequities and ill-health that require holistic and systemic change that the community cannot achieve alone. As the founding organizer shared in an interview with the press,
“This community pantry is only a temporary solution for empty stomachs. Food security, services, those are different things and normal citizens do not have the budget to initiate those big projects” (Valenzuela, 2021).
The findings of this study reveal that community pantries during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines indeed have the potential to address diverse emergent health needs by mobilizing the community for health, improving access to healthcare, ensuring community collaboration, and calling for collective action for systemic issues. Indeed, the case of Maginhawa Community Pantry echoes Schwartz and Seligman (2019)‘s food pantry model, illustrating that pantries can engage in initiatives that contribute to addressing diverse health issues, such as COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and access to sexual and reproductive health information, which are long-standing health concerns among Filipinos (Abesamis and Siddayao, 2021; Lasco and Yu, 2021a). Likewise, the Pantry’s initiatives show that they may collaborate with other pantries—especially those that champion specific advocacies (e.g. zero-waste; sexual health; etc.)—to facilitate the community’s access to essential goods and commodities.
The Maginhawa Community Pantry seems to fall neatly within the Western concept of community pantries, as discussed in the literature, especially since it takes on principle of US-based pantries of ‘take what you need, give what you can.’ However, the Maginhawa Community Pantry is unique in many ways. First, the Maginhawa Community Pantry is a response unique to the COVID-19 pandemic. Malnutrition, poverty and food insecurity are historical issues for the Filipino people (Food and Agriculture Organization et al., 2020; Park et al., 2020; UN Development Programme, 2021). However, as the Pantry organizer shared, the Pantry and the other 6000 pantries it inspired were established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the inaccessibility of basic goods and services due to the lockdown.
Secondly, the Maginhawa Community Pantry and the movement it spurred uniquely reflect and manifest Filipino social values. Although previous analyses of Filipino social behaviour have often alluded to bayanihan—or ‘help, when it is needed,…from the community, one’s family, friends, compadres and neighbours’ (Bankoff, 2020, p. 468), bayanihan and other ‘forms of traditional community coping put people at risk because they are difficult to practice with social distancing and the virus is highly contagious’ (Bankoff, 2020, p. 470). Despite this, Filipinos continued to engage with community pantries as organizers, donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries.
To make sense of this, bayanihan can be further grounded on a more central Filipino value: kapwa, or the shared sense of identity and the self with others (Enriquez, 1978). How is kapwa manifested in the community pantries? To the founding pantry organizer, the community pantries signify not only a shared experience of the COVID-19 pandemic but an active response in solidarity with the community’s struggles, which Enriquez (1978) talks about vis-à-vis the Filipino value of pakikibaka—or action towards resistance and social change. As the Organizer shares,
Our community organizers in the Philippines—those in the database—most of them are simple people and coming from low to middle-class families. We feel that it’s because they’re also the ones directly affected by the pandemic, by poverty…They’re also the ones who can relate [so] they’re the ones who set up the pantries.
Because of the unprecedented and widespread impact of COVID-19 on Filipinos from different sectors of society, the collective experience of the pandemic was an impetus for solidarity and collective action, which manifested itself through the community pantries movement. This cements community pantries in the Philippines not only as a COVID-19 unique response but as a uniquely Filipino response to the pandemic.
This paper likewise unveils that the Pantry, much like the other health problems it seeks to address, is informed by co-occurring forces and contexts as well as long-standing and historical societal and health issues. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has largely been a debacle between public health solutions and economic development (Hapal, 2021), but the pantries shed light on, if not reify, the connections between the health and economic needs of community members in the Philippines. Moreover, while the pantries effectively reflect the need for partnerships between the community and other organizations to address gaps in public health (del Castillo and Maravilla, 2021), the operation of the community pantries was particularly affected by the political climate of Philippine governance.
Despite responding to the needs of Filipino communities, Maginhawa Community Pantry was forced to stop its operations after its organizer and volunteers were ‘red-tagged’—or profiled by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as using the pantries to recruit members into the Communist Party in the Philippines (de Leon, 2021). This hostile response to community efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its related issues contributes to the Filipino people’s mistrust of the government and its health programmes (Yu et al., 2021). This experience of red-tagging by the Maginhawa Community Pantry reflects an essential lesson in community health engagement in the Philippines. That is, the Philippine government and other duty-bearers must be cognizant of how their response to community health initiatives affects the community’s trust in them and their participation in their health programmes. This is especially important since these collective efforts at the community level are not only central to Filipino social action (Duthy and Bolo-Duthy, 2003; Bankoff, 2020) but also stem from the mistrust in the government and their initiatives in the first place.
Furthermore, community pantries cannot address the COVID-19 pandemic alone, nor can they provide access to goods and services in the long run. As Bankoff (2020) shares, ‘[t]he assistance rendered on these occasions…is short-lived or is limited in scope to a specific project’ (p.470). The Pantry Organizer likewise echoes the transient nature of the community pantries in an interview with the press:
“This community pantry is only a temporary solution for empty stomachs. Food security [and] services—those are different things and normal citizens do not have the budget to initiate those big projects” (Valenzuela, 2021).
However, the public and other government officials have lauded the community pantries as “a reflection of the ‘bayanihan’ spirit” (de Leon, 2021). While our paper does show that community pantries manifest Filipino values of bayanihan and kapwa, hailing efforts by resource-limited communities as exemplary responses to COVID-19 precludes relevant duty-bearers from taking responsibility for responding to the pandemic. As Eadie and Su (2018)‘s study on initiatives and interventions after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) reveals, discourses of “both resilience and bayanihan were myths constructed in the aftermath of the typhoon to cover up and distract from the resentment of locals over the unequal distribution of aid and the social divisions they caused” (p. 341).
As such, the work to address the systemic issues the pantries surface requires systemic action. Although the pantries show that the community can engage in ‘participatory communication’ and ‘feedback mechanisms’ (Lasco and Yu, 2021a, p. 2), addressing diverse and salient health problems require collaboration from multiple sectors not only between the government and the scientific community—a sentiment raised by the founding organizer of the Pantry vis-à-vis sustainable solutions to health problems. Particularly, this entails partnerships with the community initiated by duty-bearers. But given the historical mistrust of the government and their initiatives, part and parcel of achieving community engagement, participation, and feedback in health may require that the community is at the forefront of the decision-making and deliberation activities—an approach, which the Pantry elucidates is not only feasible but effective.
Because of the nature of the case study research design, the findings of this study are unique to the Maginhawa Community Pantry and its community pantry organizer. While the findings may be compared to community pantries in other geographical locations in the Philippines, these findings will also be limited to the COVID-19 context. Likewise, while standard procedures are not strictly imposed in qualitative research, principles in qualitative research within the online and COVID-19 settings are constantly evolving vis-à-vis the demand for research and the limitations of the public health crises (Dodds and Hess, 2021). Although Lincoln and Guba (1985 as cited in Nowell et al., 2017) recommend engaged observation of participants experiencing the phenomenon, nonverbal behaviours and cues are largely lost during the online setup of the research. Since the study focuses on the community pantries as a health phenomenon from the perspective and experiences of the community pantry organizers, other perspectives and experiences occurring within the community pantries were left out of this study as well.
This study extends the literature on community health by providing a case that highlights the importance of cultural values in promoting participatory engagement to meet the diverse health needs of the more vulnerable members of the community, especially during periods of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while the operations of community pantries are laudable, these may not be sustainable in meeting the holistic wellbeing needs of the community. Moreover, stakeholders’ experiences of community pantries also highlight the gaps in public health and social welfare services, and the ability of these pantries to raise awareness regarding the problematic aspects of local and national public governance vis-à-vi food security and other health issues.
Instead of restricting and politicizing these community initiatives, government agencies can collaborate with community pantries to improve the services and provide material and structural resources to make these programmes sustainable. Government agents can likewise appeal to these Filipino values in rebuilding trust in public institutions to attract more individuals and groups who are willing to provide humanitarian resources and services during these times of crisis. Community pantries can take advantage of their established connectedness on social media to share best practices and establish organizational structures and processes to improve service delivery and overall sustainability. Other countries with similar values as Filipinos can draw the insights of this study to foster participation in community development.
No funding was received to support the conduct of this study or the writing and publication of this paper.
The authors report that there are not conflicts of interest in the conduct of the study or in the writing and publication of this article.
Luis Emmanuel Ang Abesamis is a social and behavioral scientist whose research work is focused on critical transgender studies, health social sciences, and health policy analysis. This work was done as a graduate student in the Master of Health Social Science program of De La Salle University Manila. They are currently a Lecturer of Behavioral Science at the Department of Behavioral Sciences, University of the Philippines Manila, Philippines.
Charles Anthony Panti Suarez, RPh is a registered pharmacist who is currently working in clinical research, pharmaceutical regulatory affairs, patient safety, and contracted public health research. His research interests include international health, health social science, translational research, pharmacoeconomics, and pharmacoepidemiology.
Mary Louise Buenafe Rivera, RPm is a registered psychometrician whose current line of work is in behavior design and innovation. She is currently finishing her Master’s in Health Social Science at De La Salle University. Her research interests are in health social sciences, public health, and social development.
Natasha Denise Suruiz Montevirgen, RN is a public health professional involved in HIV development work, particularly in monitoring and evaluation, and strategic information. Her research interests include HIV epidemiology, estimation and modelling, health social science, and gender studies.
Jerome Visperas Cleofas, PhD, RN is a registered nurse with a PhD in Sociology. He is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Behavioral Sciences, De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines. He is currently a board member of the Philippine Sociological Society and a member of the Capacity Building Committee of the Metro Manila Health Research and Development Consortium. His research interests include health social sciences, preventive mental health, youth and emerging adulthood, and family and gender studies.
January 27, 2020
March 3, 2020
June 26, 2020
January 14, 2021
February 24, 2021