In Cagayan de Oro, community spirit dampened by red-tagging

Apr. 27, 2021

This Kauswagan community pantry set up last week by UP Diliman instructor Rene Principe Jr was halted two days later as Principe became a target of red tagging. (Photo courtesy of Rene Principe Jr)

CAGAYAN DE ORO – What started out as an inspiring act of sharing food through the community pantry has made two residents here become targets of the military’s red-tagging.

22-year old Rene Principe Jr, who started the city’s first community pantry on April 19 in front of his residence, was shocked to wake up two days later and found his face in fliers scattered all over the neighbourhood that linked him to the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“We woke up Wednesday morning with fliers scattered all over our neighborhood. I was linked to terrorist organizations. I deny all these allegations because my intention is pure when I put up the community pantry. I only want to help those who are in need,” Principe said.

Principe Jr., a University of the Philippines-Diliman alumnus and physics instructor, said he was inspired by the first community pantry in Maginhawa St., Quezon City that he started his own food-sharing drive on Monday, April 19.

Sendong survivor

He said his inspiration comes from his family’s experience of having their home wiped out during Typhoon Sendong in 2011.

“I know how it feels to be starving, to wait in line for hours just to get food. I know the struggle of hunger. That’s why I started my own community pantry to help my neighbors who are affected by the pandemic,” he said.

Principe bought grocery items and vegetables from his own pocket and set up a stall he borrowed from his parents.

He said most of those lined up are the elderly and trisikad drivers.

“It gave me happiness to help even though we are just a poor family,” he said.

But after the red-tagging incident, Principe announced on the Kauswagan Facebook page that it remains to be seen if he wants to continue the community pantry. He added the funds that he has collected from friends and donors were given to other community pantries in the city, particularly in Barangays Iponan and Nazareth and other communities.

Lawyer Ernesto Neri posted about the red-tagging incident that earned sympathy from netizens.

Halal pantry

The Campong couple, Norkhalila Mae and Abdelnur, who put up their own halal pantry outside their restaurant in downtown Cagayan de Oro last April 19, was not spared from profiling from alleged intelligence personnel.

Like Principe, Norkhalila said they got the idea from the Maginhawa community pantry, “but we made it ‘halal’ (permissible) to emphasize that as Muslims we are only displaying and accepting donations that are halal so that our Muslim brothers and sisters, when they come in, they won’t have any fear or getting ‘haram’ (forbidden) supplies.”

But she clarified that the community pantry that they established is for Muslims and individuals of other faith and was based on the practice of “zadka” or charity.

“Our community pantry is for everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims. Everyone is welcome as long as they need something,” she said.

Among the items that the food station that the Mambuays have established are fruits, vegetables, eggs, rice, sugar, salt, spices and other ingredients, canned goods, noodles, biscuits, coffee, milk, chocolate drink, soap, detergent, and feminine napkins.

Abdelnur said those who availed of the goods were grateful and were polite when they took items from the community pantry.

“The people were not rowdy. No one’s pushing or fighting over the food. They would usually ask first before taking something. I hope it stays that way,” he said.

The only trouble in the couple’s efforts came when a group of men approached the community pantry and began asking questions about it, particularly on the identity of the donors.

Norkhalila said the men introduced themselves as “police intel,” although she said all of them were wearing civilian clothes and did not show any identification cards.

In a Facebook post, Zia Adiong, a member of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao parliament, said “the principle behind the community pantries is Islamic. We call it zadka, which means charity.”

He said that for Muslims, “this goes beyond our personal decisions because it is part of our obligation to the ummah. The attempt to halt community pantries begs the question of when is generosity and humanity considered a fault? The answer is never.”


More than 300 ommunity pantry initiatives have spread all over the country in the past two weeks, as many Filipinos have lost their livelihood amidst government’s handling in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict had claimed organizers of community pantries have links to the Communist Party. This prompted the Senate to pass a resolution to defund the task force’s budget of P19 billion and re-allocate this to pandemic response.

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