Amid public outcry, CDO police backs down on community pantries

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 24 April) — Amid a public outcry against red-tagging and harassment of community pantries here, the police visited the only halal pantry in the city on Friday, two days after three intelligence operatives allegedly harassed the owner, to clarify the intent of the operatives and to contribute sacks of vegetables to the humanitarian effort.

Lt. Col. Lemuel Gonda, deputy city director of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (COPCO), told halal pantry organizer Khal Mambuay Campong at the Babu Kwan Restaurant along Maxandria Street that it was not the intention of the three police officers who visited her last Wednesday to harass her.

The three, who introduced themselves to Campong as police intelligence operatives,  asked Campong several questions about the pantry, its donors, etc. and even took a picture of a donor who dropped off a contribution.

Khal Mambuay Campong, owner of Babu Kwan Restaurant in Cagayan de Oro City and organizer of the city’s halal community pantry is visited by three intelligence operatives on Wednesday, 21 April 2021. Two days later, she was visited by a team led by the deputy police director who clarified to her that the intent of the three was not to harass her. The deputy police chief’s team brought sacks of vegetables to contribute to the pantry. Photo courtesy of Khal Campong

Despite what happened on Wednesday, Campong continued to operate the halal pantry which helps less fortunate residents and vendors around Cogon public market here.

Campong told MindaNews that Gonda and his team “were very courteous”  and she did not feel threatened.

In a statement to the media, Col. Henry Dampal, City Police Director, said their office will not interfere with “any voluntary private initiative that seeks to alleviate the living conditions of the less fortunate affected by the pandemic.”

Dampal said the city police force would support these pantries which are “expressions of Bayanihan spirit and Filipino spirit of compassion.”

On Wednesday, Cagayan de Oro’s first community pantry, initiated by Rene Principe Jr., an instructor at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, suspended operations two days after it opened, after he and some volunteers were red-tagged by unknown persons.

The red-tagging of Principe and alleged harassment of Campong triggered an outcry among residents in Cagayan de Oro.

House Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez (2nd district, Cagayan de Oro) said he would file a resolution before the House of Representatives next week asking the Commission on Human Rights and National Bureau of Investigation to investigate these incidents.

“I strongly condemn the profiling and red-tagging o those who are providing community pantries in Cagayan de Oro and the country as well,” Rodriguez said.

“They should even be commended. Their act of generosity is no crime,” he added.

Balay Mindanaw Foundation founder and President Charlito Manlupig also condemned the police harassment and red-tagging of the food pantries in Cagayan de Oro.

“People who are hungry look at the community pantry as a solution. We wonder why some people in government look at it as a problem,” Manlupig said.

Meranaw leader Samira Gutoc also condemned the harassment of the only halal pantry in Cagayan de Oro.

“This is so tragic and I am disgusted,” she said. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)